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231,1 F252 v, 26 66-01*326 
Fathers of the Church, 



?q , , 1?w v 26 66-011-326 
Fr/ciiers of the Chui'ch, 







WH a 



A NEW TRANSLATION 
VOLUME 26 



A NEW TRANSLATION 



Founded by 
LUDWIG SCHOPP 



EDITORIAL BOARD 
ROY JOSEPH DEFERRARI 

The Catholic University of America 
Editorial Director 



RUDOLPH ARBESMANN, O.S.A. 
Fordham University 

STEPHAN KUTTNER 

The Catholic University of America 

MARTIN. R. P. McGuiRE 

The Catholic University of America 

WILFRID PARSONS, S.J. 

The Catholic University of America 



BERNARD M. PEEBLES 

The Catholic University of America 

ROBERT P. RUSSELL, O,S,A. 

Villanova University 

ANSELM STRITTMATTER, O.S.B. 
St. Anselrn's Priory 

JAMES EDWARD TOBIN 
Queens College 



Translated by 
SISTER MARY MELCHIOR BEYENKA, O.R 



New York 

FATHERS OF THE CHURCH, INC. 

1954 



NIHIL OBSTAT: 

JOHN M, A. FEARNS, S.T.D. 
Censor Librorum 



IMPRIMATUR: 

gg FRANCIS CARDINAL SPELLMAN 

Archbishop of New York 

November 13, 1954 



Copyright 1954 by 
FATHERS OF THE CHURCH, INC. 

475 Fifth Avenue, New York 17, N. Y. 
All rights reserved 



Lithography by Bishop Litho, Inc. 
US. A, 




INTRODUCTION 

JT. AMBROSE GOVERNED the Church at Milan for 
twenty-three years, from December 1, 373, until his 
death on April 4, 397. Of his correspondence, pre- 
served in ninety-one letters, Letters 1-63 of the Benedictine 
edition (reprinted in Migne, PL 16.849-1286), can be dated 
with exact or approximate certitude; Letters 64-91, howev v er, 
are impossible to date from either external or internal evi- 
dence. Even within the chronological limits of the traditional 
dates, the years 379 to 396 scholars find discrepancies, 
many of which can have no definite solution. For the dates of 
the letters and other historical events touching their contents, 
J. R. Palanque, 'Essai de chronologic Ambrosienne, 3 Saint 
Ambroise et V empire romain '(Paris 1933) 480-556, has 
been followed unless otherwise noted. 

Because of the wide variety of the subject matter of the 
letters and the unsatisfactory chronological arrangement of 
earlier editions and translations, the present volume offers 
the letters in a new order, which is an adaptation of the 
classification employed by Palanque. 1 The letters have been 
grouped according to the classes of persons addressed; 
namely: (1) emperors, (2) bishops, (3) priests, (4) his sister, 
Marcellina, and (5) laymen. Seven synodal letters, written 
to emperors or bishops in the name of Ambrose and other 

1 Palanque, op. cit. 466-479. 

6043:26 



vi SAINT AMBROSE 

members of Church councils, are placed after the letters to 
bishops. Letters to entire congregations follow the letters to 
individuals within each section. Each group of letters presents 
the addressees in alphabetical order. 

As a result of this arrangement, the letters on related 
subjects or those written in the same spirit to an individual 
are frequently found together. They range from affairs of 
state, problems of Church government, doctrinal disputes, 
exegesis, and pastoral and legal affairs, to the exchange of 
greetings between friends in many stations of life, letters of 
consolation, and the ordinary letter that attempted to bring 
the absent together in a world where travel and commu- 
nication were extremely difficult. 

The letters are a reflection of the many-sided role of St. 
Ambrose. His parents were Romans who were residing in 
Gaul at Trier in 339 when Ambrose was born. His father 
was praetorian prefect of the Gauls at the time. Ambrose 
had an older sister, Marcellina, who became a nun in 343, 
to whom he wrote three letters that are extant, and also 
an older brother, Uranius Satyrus, whom he loved dearly 
and over whose early death in 375 he grieved deeply. 

Ambrose's education was typical of his day. He learned 
rhetoric, mathematics, philosophy, and science. He had a 
wide knowledge of Greek, by which he was able to know the 
works of the Greek Fathers of the fourth century, to study 
their writings, and to transmit them in Latin to the Western 
Church. Since he was desirous of following a legal career, 
he studied jurisprudence, and this knowledge, too, was fre- 
quently used later in the service of the Church. 

Although Ambrose's family was Catholic and had a martyr 
among its forebears, Ambrose was not baptized in his youth. 
He did, however, study the truths of the Christian faith 
under the priest Simplicianus. This tutor came to Milan 
after Ambrose was made bishop and he there continued to 



INTRODUCTION Vll 

instruct his former pupil, who, as Ambrose himself remarks, 
'had to instruct before he had even learned.' 2 Eventually, 
Sirnplicianus succeeded Ambrose as Bishop of Milan in 397. 

Ambrose's legal career began about the year 365 at Sir- 
mium, where he practiced law in the praetorian prefect's 
court. About 370 he became provincial governor of Aernelia- 
Liguria, with Milan as his place of residence. There in 
November, 373, 3 Ambrose was summoned to keep order at 
the election of a successor to Auxentius in the see of Milan 
upon the death of the Arian bishop. A child's cry, 'Ambrose 
Bishop !' brought to a unanimous decision the mixed throngs 
of Arians and Catholics in the cathedral and, despite the 
protests of Ambrose, who was only a catechumen in the 
Church, he was chosen by the people ; the choice was seconded 
by the clergy, and it was approved by Emperor Valentinian 
I. Ambrose was duly consecrated bishop, after receiving the 
minor and major orders of the priesthood, on December 1, 
373. 4 

As bishop of the city where the emperors had their resi- 
dence, Ambrose raised Milan to recognition as the most 
important see of the West. He occupied a place of pre- 
eminence in the Church and contributed much to its prestige 
in the early years of peace when a strong pagan party still 
hoped to enjoy the protection of emperors not always 
Catholic. His religious policy was threefold: the protection 
of the Church against the violence of the emperors; the 
demand that the civil power respect the moral law; and the 
fostering of a close union of Church and state by which the 
state eventually favored only the Catholic religion and dis- 
couraged all others. Thus, without any political ambition on 

2 De off. 1.1.4. 

3 B. Altaner, Patrologie (3 ed. Freiburg 1950) 25, gives the date as 374. 

4 For several points of interest regarding Ambrose's election and con- 
secration, see F. H. Dudden, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose 

(Oxford 1935) I 70-74. 



ylii SAINT AMBROSE 

his part, Ambrose gained a stronger power than the emperor 
in that he could exercise a moral check on him. 

Ambrose's episcopacy spanned the reigns of several em- 
perors of East and West. Vaientinian I (d. 375) had sanc- 
tioned his election as bishop. Valentinian's son, Gratian, 
became Emperor of the West in joint rule with his half- 
brother, Vaientinian II, in 375. The former was murdered 
by agents of Maximus the Usurper in 383, the latter was^a 
victim of Arbogastes and Eugenius the Usurper in 392. 
Ambrose had known and corresponded with both emperors 
and directed their policy of refusing to provide imperial 
revenues for the upkeep of pagan temples. At the death of 
Gratian he went to Gaul to beg the body from Eugenius; 
he arranged the details of Valentinian's burial and delivered 
a consolatory funeral sermon for him. 5 

While the West had several emperors and two usurpers, 
the East enjoyed the long reign of Theodosius from 379 
until 395. Ambrose had dealt harshly with Theodosius for 
the affair at Callinicum when the emperor ordered Christians 
to rebuild a Jewish synagogue which they had burned during 
a religious riot. The imperial order was rescinded. After the 
massacre of the Thessalonians by the command of Theodosius 
in 388, Ambrose exacted public penance of the emperor in 
the Basilica at Milan. He preached his funeral sermon, how- 
ever, and praised his victories against the two usurpers of the 
West and his zeal in striving to unite East and West in the 
bond of the one faith. Two years later Ambrose died, while 
acting as unofficial guardian of the youthful Honorius, Em- 
peror of the West. 

The letters which Ambrose wrote to Gratian, to Valen- 

5 Letter 4, which has not hitherto been considered among the con- 
solatory works of Ambrose, was written to Theodosius from whom 
Ambrose was awaiting instructions for the burial of Vaientinian. 
Sections 1-3 are a 'monody' wherein Ambrose expresses his great grief 
at the death of Vaientinian. 



INTRODUCTION IX 

tinian, and to Theodosius, and the synodal letters to the 
three conjointly, have the sustained dignity which charac- 
terized his style when addressing the highest ranking civil 
rulers of his day. But with all his deference to authority he 
pursued a relentless logic in championing the rights of God 
and the Church, using Scripture to illustrate the truth of 
God's sovereignty in matters human and divine. 

Ambrose addressed more letters to bishops than to any 
other class of persons, and understandably so. Throughout 
all of Northern Italy, Ambrose acted as metropolitan, but the 
limits of his episcopal see never corresponded to those of his 
activity. He founded several bishoprics; he intervened in the 
election of a successor to Limenius at Vercelli, installing 
Honorattis; he instructed the Church at Aemelia regarding 
the date of Easter, having been requested by Eusebius of 
Bologna to do so. The provinces of Flaminia and Venetia 
looked to Milan rather than to their see cities; Ambrose was 
a sort of super-metropolitan of Italo-Illyrian bishoprics. 6 

In addition, he corresponded with the Bishops of Rome, 
Naples, Gaul, and Alexandria all outside his province 
and with newly elected Bishops of Thessalonica, Como, Imola, 
and Claterna, Several of those whom he had consecrated he 
continued to favor with his correspondence. The collection 
of letters contains six to Sabinus of Piacenza, whom Ambrose 
begged to criticize his writings, and for whom he wrote 
letters that embody commentaries of several passages of Scrip- 
ture. Three letters to bishops concern legal affairs; several 
are mere pleasant exchanges of greeting. 

Individual priests to whom Ambrose wrote are Horon- 
tianus, addressed in eight letters, and Simplicianus, addressed 
in four. The former appears not to have hesitated to call on 

6 See, in this connection, J. R. Palanque and others, The Church in 
the Christian Roman Empire, trans. . Messenger (London 1952) II 
650-655. 



X SAINT AMBROSE 

Ambrose for assistance In Interpreting any Scriptural passage 
whose meaning was doubtful to him. In his replies Ambrose 
is generous, allowing his letters and those of Horontianus to 
form, as he says, 'a sort of chain 3 (53). Frequently, he 
developed the mystical and allegorical sense of Scripture with 
great originality and depth. 7 

The letters to these priests have a special interest in that the 
recipients were residents of Milan with whom the contents 
might have been discussed in person without recourse to 
writing. Undoubtedly, the letter form helped Ambrose to 
clarify his thought. A letter to certain members of the clergy 
who were discontented in the priesthood formulates in a 
winning manner their spiritual father's advice and encour- 
agement. A lengthy letter to the Church at Vercelli is a 
veritable treatise on the duties of the clergy. 

Two of the letters to Marcellina contain Ambrose's first- 
hand account of events of historical importance : his struggle 
with the Arian Empress Justina and her son Valentinian II 
in 386, and his conduct with Theodosius after the affair of 
Callinicum in 388, The third letter to his sister tells of his 
finding the bodies of the martyrs, Gervase and Protase, whose 
relics are now honored with those of Ambrose in the basilica 
at Milan. 

Laymen to whom Ambrose wrote had In some instances 
requested instruction on Scripture, as a certain Clementianus 
did who asked the meaning of St. Paul's words: 'The law 
has been our tutor unto Christ, that we might be justified 
by faith.' 8 Others appealed for help In a family or legal 
difficulty, as did Paternus (86), who wished his son to marry 
the latter's niece, and Studius (90), who wanted to know 
whether the Church allowed judges who had inflicted sen- 
tences of capital punishment to receive the sacraments. 

7 See, for example, Letter 46. 

8 Gal. 3.24. 



INTRODUCTION XI 

Several letters are mere exchanges of greeting when a 
messenger travels from Milan. A certain Irenaeus, a resident 
of Milan, received twelve letters from Ambrose, many of 
which are comparable to those addressed to Horontianus on 
exegetical problems. Several contain passages of great depth, 
and allow us to see the workings of divine grace in this 
spiritual guide of souls. Letters of consolation were addressed 
to the clergy and people of Thessalonica on the death of 
their bishop, Acholius, and to a certain Faustinus at the 
death of his sister. 9 

The letters give us a clear view of those qualities which 
made Ambrose the spiritul leader of his day. He was eager 
to propagate the faith, to defend its dogma, and, if necessary, 
to shed his blood for its preservation. He held firmly to his 
principles in dealing with the emperors. Yet, when the 
occasion arose, he showed great magnanimity in forgiving 
his enemies and in heaping benefits upon them. His care for 
souls was not limited to those within his official jurisdiction, 
but the good of the Church drew him into its concerns 
elsewhere and prompted him to take a leading part in Church 
councils at Aquileia, Rome, and Capua. His letters reveal 
his learning, his wisdom, his holiness, and his freedom from 
the least taint of worldliness. Clergy and laity alike consulted 
him. Men found in him the piety, charity, mercy, modesty, 
justice, and firmness that won their esteem. Ambrose lives as 
we read his letters almost 1,600 years after they were first 
penned. 

There are details revealed by the correspondence of Am- 
brose which add to our knowledge of ancient epistolography. 
The salutations are frequently very simple, for example, 
'Ambrose to Titianus, 3 with an occasional addition of 'greet- 
ings. 5 Then there are the elaborate salutations to the emperors 

9 For a study of these consolatory letters, see C. Favez, La consolation 
latine chretienne (Paris 1937) 20-22. 



SAINT AMBROSE 



(8), and the tenderest of greetings to his sister, 'dearer 
than life and eyes' (61). Many letters begin with a restate- 
ment of the difficulty proposed to him most welcome to the 
reader centuries removed. 

His biographer Paulinus 10 testifies to Ambrose's habit of 
writing with his own hand, as Ambrose himself mentions 
he did (24), particulary at night. He praises Gratian (1) 
for the letter he had penned with care to Ambrose. Ambrose 
wrote with his own hand to Theodosius (7) after the affair 
at Callinicum, so that the emperor alone might know and 
read his words of rebuke. Several times Ambrose speaks of 
letter writing as a bond between those who are apart, and, 
overburdened as he was with ministering to the weaknesses of 
men, 11 he seems to be reaching out of his loneliness toward 
companion souls. 

That Ambrose collected some of his letters in his lifetime 
is evident from his words to Sabinus: 'These remarks which 
are a prelude to other discussions I shall put in the collection 
of our letters, if you are willing, and give them a number' 
(23). He was conscious of his style, as he speaks to the 
same Sabinus of 'prating like an old man . . . employing an 
ordinary and friendly style/ and 'savoring of older writers/ 

Whatever the content of Ambrose's letters to bishops, 
priests, and laymen, he invariably expresses his love for his 
correspondents in the beautiful refrain: 'Farewell, and love 
us, because we love you.' The letters to emperors, however, 
he often concludes with great formality and by imparting a 
blessing. On several occasions, when he has administered a 
rebuke, there is no formal conclusion. Thus, the final argument 
lingers in the reader's consciousness. 

The years 385 to 387 were those in which Augustine knew 

10 Vit. 9.38, trans. John A. Lacy, in this series, Volume 15 (New York 
1952) . 

11 Augustine, Co??/. 6.33. 



INTRODUCTION Xlll 

Ambrose as Bishop of Milan. During that time Ambrose 
addressed at least two letters to emperors, four to bishops, 
seven to priests, eight to laymen. These twenty letters are a 
proportionately large part of his correspondence. Unfulfilled 
is our longing for even one letter to Augustine at this period 
or in the years to come ! 12 

The present translation is based on the Benedictine text, 
reprinted in Migne, and J. Wytzes' critical text for Letters 
7, 8, and 11 in Der Streit urn den Altar der Viktoria 
(Amsterdam 1936). Correspondence with Rev. Otto J. 
Faller, S. J., of Munich, Germany, discouraged our waiting 
for the critical edition of the Letters which he is preparing 
for the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. 

Eleven of the letters, considered by the editors as c most 
interesting and important,' were translated by H. de Rome- 
stin in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 10 (New York 
1896). H. Walford revised a translation by an earlier 
unnamed translator of all the letters (except 32 and 33) in 
the Library of the Fathers (Oxford 1881). This last-named 
work is the only translation of the entire correspondence of 
Ambrose found in any language. Rev. W. R. Waghorn's 
unpublished master's thesis, Saint Ambrose: Letters to 
Sabinus (Washington 1952), was also consulted. 

Biblical quotations and references abound in the letters of 
St. Ambrose. Although at times the language is that of the 
Vulgate, many quotations are given in the language of the 
Old Latin Bible, some are from the Septuagint, and others 
have no counterpart in the versions which are at hand. Under 
these circumstances it has been necessary frequently to adapt 
the translation of Biblical passages to the text of Ambrose. 
Where possible, use was made of the New American Catholic 
Edition of The Holy Bible (New York 1950), wherein the 

12 Evidence of their correspondence before Augustine's baptism is found 
in Conf. 9.5.13. 



Xiv SAINT AMBROSE 

Old Testament is based on the Douay Version, with Psalms 
from the New Latin Version authorized by Pope Pius XII, 
and the New Testament is based on the Confraternity 
Edition. For the Book of Genesis the translation used was 
that of the Catholic Biblical Association of America for the 
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (Paterson, N. J. 1948). 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY 



Editions and Translations: 

Frisch, J. clu, et Nourry, N. le (Maurists) , Sancti Ambrosii Media- 
lanensis Episcopi Opera, 2 vols. (Paris 1686-1690) . 

Migne, J.-P., Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus (3rd reprint of 
the Benedictine edition) , (Paris 1845) 16. 849-1286. 

Romestin, H, de, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ser. 2 (New 
York 1896) , Vol. 10. 

Waghorn, W. R., Saint Ambrose: Letters to Sabinus, unpublished 
master's thesis, The Catholic University of America (Wash- 
ington 1952) . 

Walford, H., The Letters of St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (Oxford 
1881) . 



Secondary Works: 

BrogHe, Due de, Saint Ambrose, trans. Margaret Maitland (London 

1899) . 
Dudden, F. Homes, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose f % vols. 

(Oxford 1935). 
Labriolle, Pierre de, The Life and Times of St. Ambrose, trans. 

Herbert Wilson (St. Louis 1928). 
McGuire, Martin R. P., 'A New Study on the Political Rdle of St. 

Ambrose,' Catholic Historical Review 22 (1936-1937) 304-318. 
Nagl, Maria Assunta, Der Heilige Ambrosius (Munster 1951) . 
Palanque, Jean Remy, Saint Arnbroise et I'empire rornam (Paris 

1933). k 

Paulinus, Life of St. Ambrose, trans. John A. Lacy, in Early 

Christian Biographies, Fathers of the Church 15 (New York 
1952). 



CONTENTS 



Letters to Emperors Page 

1 (1) * To Gratian 3 

2 (40) To Theodosius 6 

3 (51) To Theodosius 20 

4 (55) To Theodosius 26 

5 (61) To Theodosius 28 

6 (62) To Theodosius ' 30 

7 (17) To Valentinian 31 

8 (18) To Valentinian 37 

9 (21) To Valentinian 52 

10 (24) To Valentinian 57 

11 (57) To Eugenius the Usurper 62 



Letters to Bishops 

12 (Iff) To Anysius 67 

13 (91) To Candidianus 70 

14 (50) To Chromatius 70 

*Indicates Benedictine enumeration 

XV 



Letters to Bishops Page 

15 (2) To Constantius 76 

16 (72) To Constantius 90 

17 (87) To Fegadius and Delphinus 101 

18 (3) To Felix .102 

19 (4) To Felix 102 

20 (7) To Justus 105 

21 (8) To Justus 115 

22 (82) To Marcellus 120 

23 (48) To Sabinus 124 

24 (47) To Sabinus 127 

25 (45) To Sabinus 129 

26 (49) To Sabinus 134 

27 (46) To Sabinus 136 

28 (58) To Sabinus 144 

29 (59) To Severus 149 

30 (85) To Siricius 151 

31 (86) To Siricius 152 

32 (5) To Syagrius 152 

33 (6) To Syagrius 163 

34 (56) To Theophilus . 172 

35 (19) To Vigilius 174 

36 (23) To the Bishops of Aemelia 189 

37 (15) To the Bishops of Thessalonica 200 



Synodal Letters 

38 (9) To the Bishops of Gaul 207 

39 (10) To Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius . . 208 

40 (11) To Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius . . 



xvi 



Synodal Letters Page 

41 (12) To Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius . . 216 

42 (13) To Theodosius 219 

43 (;/) To Theodosius 223 

44 (42) To Siricius, Bishop of Rome 225 



Letters to Priests Page 

45 (70) To Horontianus 231 

46 (71) To Horontianus 241 

47 (77) To Horontianus 245 

48 (78) To Horontianus 251 

49 (43) To Horontianus ! ... 254 

50 (44) To Horontianus 264 

51 (34) To Horontianus 272 

52 (35) To Horontianus 277 

53 (36) To Horontianus 283 

54 (37) To Simplicianus 286 

55 (38) To Simplicianus 303 

56 (65) To Simplicianus 308 

57 (67) To Simplicianus 311 

58 (81) To the Clergy of Milan 317 

59 (63) To the Church at Vercelli 321 



Letters to His Sister 

60 (20) To Marcellina 365 

61 (22) To Marcellina 376 

62 (41) To Marcellina 385 



xvii 



Letters to Laymen 

63 (89) To Alypius 399 

64 (90) To Antonius 399 

65 (88) To Atticus 400 

66 (79) To Bellicius 40! 

67 (80) To Bellicius 402 

68 (74) To Clementianus .405 

69 (75) To Clementianus 410 

70 (84) To Cynegius 413 

71 (54) To Eusebius 413 

72 (55) To Eusebius 414 

73 (39) To Faustinus 416 

74 (31) To Irenaeus 420 

75 (32) To Irenaeus 425 

76 (33) To Irenaeus 428 

77 (64) To Irenaeus 432 

78 (69) To Irenaeus 435 

79 (29) To Irenaeus 437 

80 (30) To Irenaeus 448 

81 (28) To Irenaeus 454 

82 (27) To Irenaeus 458 

83 (73) To Irenaeus 464 

84 (26) To Irenaeus 468 

85 (76) To Irenaeus 475 

86 (60) To Paternus 481 

87 (66) To Romulus 484 

88 (68) To Romulus . 488 

89 (83) To Sisinnius 489 

90 (25) To Studius 492 

91 (52) To Titianus 494 



XVlll 





LETTERS 



Translated by 
SISTER MARY MELCHIOR BEYENKA, O.P, PH.D. 

Rosary College 
River Forest, Illinois 




LETTERS TO EMPERORS 



/. To the most blessed Emperor Gratian, most Christian 
prince, Ambrose, bishop (March, 380} 

DO NOT LACK affection, most Christian of princes: I 
have nothing more true and glorious to say than 
this. I am not lacking in affection, I say, but a 
sense of awe has kept my affection from meeting your 
Clemency. If I did not go on foot to meet you as you 
returned, I did meet you in spirit, I met you with prayer, in 
which lies the most important duty of a bishop. I met you, 
I say? When I was not with you, did I not follow with all my 
love you to whom I clung with mind and heart? Surely, the 
presence of minds is more important. I read of your journey 
from day to day; I put myself in your camp day and night 
by my concern for you and by my thought. I stretched out 
for you a coverlet of prayers; if I was unable to "give you 
the attention which you deserved, yet was I unremitting in 
my affection. 

In fact, when I showed myself solicitous for your welfare, 
I was acting in my own interest. Here is not flattery, which 
you do not want and which I consider unbefitting my 



SAINT AMBROSE 



office; it is merely the good grace which you have shown me. 
God who is our judge, He whom you profess, He in whom 
you piously believe, understands that my strength is refreshed 
by your faith, your salvation, your glory. And He knows that 
I give prayers which are due you not only because of your 
public office, but also because of my personal love for you. 
For you have given back to me the peace of the Church, 
you have closed the mouths of the wicked ah, would that 
you had closed their hearts, also! You have done this not 
less by your faith than by the weight of your power. 

What shall I say of your recent letter? 1 You wrote the 
entire letter with your own hand, so that the very marks of 
punctuation bespoke your faith and piety. In the same way 
with his own hand did Abraham of old slay an ox 2 to serve 
his guests at dinner, and in this performance of his duty did 
not ask the help of others. As a humble servant he ministered 
to the Lord and His angels, or to the Lord in His angels. 
O Emperor, you honor a lowly priest with royal dignity, but 
deference is shown to 'the Lord when a servant is honored, 
for God Himself has said: 'What you did to one of the least 
of these, you did unto me.' 3 

But shall I praise only the lofty humility in you, the 
emperor, and not rather the faith of your mind fully 
conscious of your deserts, that faith taught you by Him 
whom you do not deny? Who else could have taught you 
not to reproach Him for being of the created nature which 
you see in yourself? Nothing could be said more character- 
istically, nothing more clearly. For to say that the creature is 
Christ is to put forth an insult, not to confess reverence. 
Futhermore, what is so insulting as to think that He is what 
we are? You have instructed me, then, the one from whom 



1 See Gratian's letter to Ambrose (PL 16.875-876) . 

2 Cf. Gen. 18.7. 

3 Matt. 25.40. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 5 

you said that you wanted to learn. I have never read or 
heard so good an interpretation as yours. 

Moreover, how pious, how admirable is the fact that you 
do not fear jealousy in God! From the Father you expect 
remuneration for your love of the Son, and by praising the 
Son you say that you cannot add anything to His glory, but 
you wish to commend yourself to the Father by praising His 
Son. This He alone taught you who said: 'He who loves me 
will be loved by my Father.' 4 

You have remarked in addition that, being weak and frail, 
you cannot so praise Him as to exalt the Godhead by your 
words. But you will preach Him according to your ability, not 
according to what the Godhead warrants. This weakness is 
more powerful in one who is in Christ, as the Apostle says: 
'When I am weak, then am I strong.' 5 Humility like this does 
away with frailty. 

To be sure, I shall come as you bid and I shall hasten to 
hear these words in your presence, to pick up these words 
in your presence when they fall from your lips. I have also 
sent the two books 6 you requested and, since they are 
approved by your Clemency, I shall not fear any damage to 
them. Meanwhile, I shall ask indulgence from the Holy Spirit 
for writing them, since I know who will be the judge of my 
speech. 

In the meantime, your love and faith in our Lord and 
Saviour, drawn from the Son of God, grows into such 
overwhelming conviction that you also believe in the divinity 
of the Holy Spirit, and you do not reproach Him as being of 
the created nature which you see in yourself, nor think that 
God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is jealous of His 

4 John 14.^4. 

5 2 Cor. 12.10. 

6 On Faith (De fide, PL 16. 527-698) . 



SAINT AMBROSE 



Spirit. That which lacks all association with created nature 
is divine. 

If the Lord grants His favor, I shall comply with the will 
of your Clemency; as you have received His grace, may you 
realize that one so pre-eminent in the glory of God has a 
right to our veneration in His own name. 

May almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
deign to protect you, that you may be blessed and flourish 
for many years, and may He deign to confirm your reign 
most gloriously in peace, O lord, august Emperor, elected by 
divine choice, most glorious of princes. 

2. To the most clement prince and blessed Emperor Theo- 
dosius Augustus, Ambrose, bishop (December, 388) 

I am continually beset with almost unending cares, O 
most blessed Emperor, but never have I felt such anxiety as 
now, for I see that I must be careful not to have ascribed to 
me anything resembling an act of sacrilege. I beg you, 
therefore, give ear with patience to what I say. For, if I am 
not worthy of a hearing from you, I am not worthy of 
offering sacrifice for you, I to whom you have entrusted the 
offering of your vows and prayers. Will you yourself not hear 
one whom you wish heard when he prays in your behalf? 
Will you not hear one who pleads in his own defense, one 
whom you have heard plead for others? And do you not 
fear for your own decision that, if you think him unworthy 
to be heard by you, you will make him unworthy of being 
heard for you? 

It is not fitting for an emperor to refuse freedom of speech, 
or for a bishop not to say what he thinks. There is no 
quality in you emperors so popular and so lovable as the 
cherishing of liberty even in those whom you have subdued 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 7 

on the battlefield. In fact, it spells the difference between 
good and bad emperors that the good love liberty; the bad, 
slavery. And there is nothing in a bishop so fraught with 
danger before God, so base before men, as not to declare 
freely what he thinks. Indeed, it is written: 'And I spoke 
of thy precepts in the presence of kings and I was not 
ashamed, 31 and elsewhere: 'Son of man, I have made thee a 
watchman to the house of Israel,' in order, it is said, 'that if 
the just man shall turn away from his justice and shall 
commit iniquity, because thou hast not given him warning,' 
that is, not told him what to guard against, 'his righteousness 
shall not be remembered, and I will require his blood at thy 
hand. But if thou warn the righteous that he sin not, and he 
doth not sin, the righteous shall surely live because thou 
hast warned him, and thou wilt deliver thy soul.' 2 

I would rather, O Emperor, have partnership with you in 
good deeds than in evil. Therefore, the bishop's silence 
should be disagreeable to your Clemency; his freedom, 
agreeable. You are involved in the peril of my silence, but 
you are helped by the boon of my freedom. I am not, then, 
intruding in bothersome fashion where I have no obligation; 
I am not interfering in the affairs of others; I am complying 
with my duty; I am obeying the commands of our God. 
This I do, first of all, out of love for you, in gratitude to you, 
from a desire to preserve your well-being. If I am not believed 
or am forbidden a hearing, I speak, nonetheless, for fear of 
offending God. If my personal peril would set you free, I 
should offer myself patiently, though not willingly, for you, 
for I would rather you were acceptable to God and glorious 
without peril to me. But, if the guilt of silence and untruth- 
fulness should weigh heavily upon me and set you free, I had 
rather that you think me too bothersome than useless and 

1 Ps. 118.46. 

2 Ezech. 3.17-21. 



SAINT AMBROSE 



dishonest. Indeed, it is written in the words of^ the holy 
Apostle Paul, whose teaching you cannot disprove: 'Be urgent 
in season, out of season; reprove, entreat, rebuke with all 
patience and teaching.' 3 

We have one whom it is more perilous to displease, 
especially since even emperors are not displeased when each 
man performs his task, and you patiently listen to each as he 
makes suggestions in his own sphere; in fact, you chide him if 
he does not act in accordance with his rank in service, Can 
this seem offensive in bishops, the very thing you are willing 
to accept from those who are in your service, since we are 
saying, not what we wish, but what we are bidden to say? 
You know the passage: 'When you will stand before kings 
and governors, take no thought of what you are to speak; 
for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour. 
For it is not you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your 
Father who speaks through you.' 4 If I were speaking in a 
case involving the commonwealth (even though justice must 
be maintained there), I would not feel such dread if I were 
not given a hearing. But in a case involving God, whom will 
you listen to if not the bishop, who sins at a greater peril? 
Who will dare tell you the truth if the bishop does not? 

I know that you are God-fearing, merciful, gentle, and 
calm, that you have the faith and fear of God in your heart, 
but often some things escape our notice. Some persons have 
zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 5 Care must 
be taken, I think, lest this condition steal upon pious souls. 
I know your devotion to God, your leniency toward men. I 
myself am indebted to you for many kind favors. Therefore, 
I fear the more, I am the more anxious lest you condemn me 
later in your judgment for the fault you did not avoid, 



3 2 Tim. 4.2. 

4 Matt. 10,19,20. 

5 Of. Rom. 10.2. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS y 

because of my want of openness and my flattery of you. If I 
saw you sinning against me, I would not have to be silent, 
for it is written: 'If thy brother sin against thee, first take 
hold of him, then rebuke him before two or three witnesses. 
If he refuse to hear thee, tell the Church.' 6 Shall I, then, 
keep silence in the cause of God? Let us then consider wherein 
lies my fear. 

It was reported by a count 7 of military affairs in the East 
that a synagogue was burned, 8 and this at the instigation of 
a bishop. You gave the order for those who were involved 
to be punished and the synagogue rebuilt at the bishop's 
expense. My charge is not that you should have waited for 
the bishop's testimony, for bishops quell disturbances and are 
eager for peace unless they deeply feel some wrong against 
God or insult to the Church. But suppose that this particular 
bishop was overimpetuous in burning the synagogue, and too 
timid at the judgment seat; are you not afraid, Emperor, 
that he may comply with your pronouncement and do you 
not fear he may become an apostate? 

Are you not afraid of what will perhaps ensue, his resisting 
the count in so many words? Then he [the count] will have 
to make him either an apostate or a martyr, either alternative 
very different from this era of your reign, either one equivalent 
to persecution if he is forced to apostatize or undergo 
martyrdom. You see what the outcome of this case will be. 
If you know that the bishop is firm, beware of making him 
a martyr if he becomes more firm; if you consider him 
inconstant, have no part in the downfall of one who is frail. 
He incurs a heavier obligation who compels the weak to fall. 

I am supposing that in the present state of affairs the 

6 Matt. 18.15-17. 

7 His name is nowhere given. 

8 At Callinicum. The incident is well summarized by Gregory Figueroa, 
S. A., The Church and the Synagogue in St. Ambrose (Washington 
1949) xiii-xxiv. 



10 SAINT AMBROSE 

bishop will admit that he spread the fires, gathered the 
crowd, and brought the people together in order not to lose 
the chance of martyrdom and to present a strong individual 
instead of many weak ones. O happy falsehood, which wins 
acquittal for others and for himself grace! This, I ask, O 
Emperor, that you rather take your vengeance on me, and, 
if you consider this a crime, attribute it to me. Why pronounce 
judgment on those who are far away? You have someone at 
hand, you have someone who admits his guilt. I declare that 
I set fire to the synagogue, at least that I gave the orders, so 
that there would be no building in which Christ is denied. 
If the objection is raised that I did not burn the synagogue 
here, I answer that its burning was begun by God's judg- 
ment, 9 and my work was at an end. If you want the truth, 
I was really remiss, for I did not think such a deed was to be 
punished. Why should I have done what was to be without 
one to punish, and without reward? These words cause me 
shame but they bring me grace, lest I offend the most high 
God. 

Let no one call the bishop to task for performing his duty : 
that is the request I make of your Clemency. And although 
I have not read that the edict was revoked, let us consider it 
revoked. What if other more timid persons should, through 
fear of death, offer to repair the synagogue at their expense, 
or the count, finding this previously determined, should order 
it to be rebuilt from the funds of Christians? Will you, O 
Emperor, have the count an apostate, and entrust to him 
the insignia of victory, or give the labaruni, which is sanctified 
by Christ's name, to one who will rebuild a synagogue which 
knows not Christ? Order the labarum carried into the 
synagogue and let us see if they [the Jews] do not resist. 

Shall a place be provided out of the spoils of the Church 
for the disbelief of the Jews, and shall this patrimony, given 

9 It was probably struck by lightning. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 1 1 

to Christians by the favor of Christ, be transferred to the 
treasuries of unbelievers? We read that, of old, temples were 
reared for idols from the plunder taken from the Cimbrians 
and from the spoils of the enemy. The Jews will write on the 
front of their synagogue the inscription: "The Temple of 
Impiety, erected from the spoils of the Christians.' 

Is your motive a point of discipline, O Emperor? Which is 
of more importance: a demonstration of discipline or the 
cause of religion? The maintenance of civil law should be 
secondary to religion. 

Have you not heard how, when Julian had ordered the 
Temple of Jerusalem rebuilt, those who were clearing the 
rubbish were burned by fire from heaven? Are you not afraid 
that this will also happen now? In fact, you should never 
have given an order such as Julian would have given. 10 

What is your motive? Is it because a public building of 
some sort has been burned, or because it chanced to be the 
synagogue there? If you are disturbed by the burning of a 
very unimportant building (for what could there be in so 
mean a town?), do you remember, O Emperor, how many 
homes of prefects at Rome have been burned and no one has 
exacted punishment? In fact, if any of the emperors wanted 
to punish such a deed more severely, he only aggravated the 
cause of all who had suffered such a great loss. If there is 
going to be any justice at all, which is more fitting, that a 
fire on some part of the building of Callinicum be avenged, 
or one at Rome? Some time, ago the bishop's residence at 
Constantinople was burned, and your Clemency's son pleaded 
with his father, begging you not to punish the insult done to 
him, the emperor's son, in the burning of the episcopal 
residence. Do you not think, O Emperor, that if you were to 

10 For an account of Julian's acts, see Jf. R. Palanque and others, The 
Church in the Christian Roman Empire, trans. E. C. Messenger (Lon- 
don 1949) I 234-239. 



1 2 SAINT AMBROSE 

order this burning to be punished, he would again plead that 
it be not so? It was very suitable for your son to gain that 
favor from his father, for it was fitting that he first forgive 
what was done to him. Besides, there was a good division of 
grace there, since the son made the entreaty regarding his 
injury, and so did the father for the son's. Here is nothing 
for you to waive in your son's behalf; be careful, then, to 
derogate nothing from God. 

There is really no adequate cause for all this commotion, 
people being punished so severely for the burning of a build- 
ing, and much less so, since a synagogue has been burned, an 
abode of unbelief, a house of impiety, a shelter of madness 
under the damnation of God Himself. For we read by the 
mouth of Jeremias, the Lord our God speaking; 'And I will 
do to this house in which my name is called upon, and which 
you trust, and to the place which I have given you and your 
father, as I did to Silo. And I will cast you away from before 
my face, as I have cast away all your brethren, the whole 
seed of Ephraim. Therefore do not thou pray for this people, 
nor show mercy for them and do not approach me for them; 
for I will not hear thee. Seest thou not what they do in the 
cities of Juda? ni God forbids us to make intercession for 
those that you think should be vindicated. 

If I were pleading according to the law of the nations, I 
would mention how many of the Church's basilicas the Jews 
burned in the time of Julian, two at Damascus one of 
which is scarcely yet repaired, and that at the expense of the 
Church, not of the synagogue while the other basilica is 
still a rough heap of unsightly ruins. Basilicas were burned at 
Gaza, Ascalon, Beirut, in fact, almost all over that region, and 
no one demanded punishment. A basilica of surpassing beauty 
at Alexandria was burned by heathens and Jews, but the 
Church was not avenged, and shall the synagogue be avenged? 

11 Jer. 7.14-17. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 13 

Shall the burning of the temple of the Valentinians 12 also 
be avenged? What is it but a temple where the heathens 
gather? Although the heathens worship twelve gods, the 
Valentinians worship thirty-two Aeons, whom they call gods. 
I have found out that a law was passed and orders given for 
the punishment of some monks to whom the Valentinians 
denied the right of way as they sang the psalms by an ancient 
custom and practice, going on their way to the feast of the 
martyrs, the Machabees. 13 In anger at their effrontery they 
[the monks] burned their hurriedly built shrine in some coun- 
try village. 

How many can entertain such hope when they remember 
that in the time of Julian a man 14 who had thrown down an 
altar and disturbed the sacrifice was sentenced by the judge 
and suffered martyrdom? The judge who heard the case was 
never considered other than a persecutor. No one ever thought 
him worth meeting or saluting with a kiss. And if he were not 
dead, I would be afraid, O Emperor, that you would punish 
him, although he did not escape heaven's vengeance, for he 
outlived his heir. 

But it is said that a trial of the judge was demanded 
and the decision handed down that he should not have 
reported the deed, but punished" it; and money chests which 
had been taken had to be restored. I shall omit any other 
details. The churches' basilicas were burned by the Jews and 
nothing was restored, nothing was demanded in return, noth- 
ing was required. Moreover, what could a synagogue in a 
distant town contain, when everything there is not much, is 
of no value, is of no account. In fine, what could those 

12 Cf. G. Bardy, 'Valentin,' DTC 15* 2497-2519. 

13 The festival honoring the Macchabees seems to have been universally 
celebrated in the Church of the fourth century on August 1. 

14 Mark of Arethusa in the time of Constantius had demolished a pagan 
temple and was tortured under Julian for refusing to rebuild it. Cf. 
Sozomen 5.10; Theodoret EccL hist. 3.7. 



14 SAINT AMBROSE 

scheming Jews have lost In this act of plunder? These are but 
the devices of Jews wishing to bring false charges, so that by 
reason of their complaints an extraordinary military inquiry 
may be demanded and soldiers sent who will perhaps say 
what was said here some time before your accession, O 
Emperor: 'How will Christ be able to help us who are sent 
to avenge Jews? They lost their own army, they wish to 
destroy ours.' 

Futhermore, into what false charges will they not break 
forth, when they even falsely accused Christ with their false 
witnesses? Into what false charges will men not break forth 
when they were liars even in matters divine? Whom will they 
not name as the instigators of the sedition? Whom will they 
not attack, even though they know them not, just so that 
they may see countless Christians in chains, see the necks of 
faithful people bowed in captivity, that the servants of God 
may go into dark hiding places, be struck with axes, given to 
the flames, and delivered to the mines, so that their sufferings 
may not pass hurriedly? 

Will you grant the Jews this triumph over God's Church? 
this trophy over Christ's people? these joys, O Emperor, to 
unbelievers? this festival to the synagogue? this grief to the 
Church? The Jewish people will put this solemnity among 
their feast days, and doubtless they will rank it with their 
triumphs over the Amorites and the Canaanites, or their 
deliverance from Pharao, the king of Egypt, or from the hand 
of Nabuchodonosor, the king of Babylon. They will have 
this solemnity marking the triumphs they have wrought over 
the people of Christ. 

And although they refuse to be bound by the laws of 
Rome, thinking them outrageous, they now wish to be 
avenged, so to speak, by Roman laws. Where were those laws 
when they set fire to the domes of the sacred basilicas? If 
Julian did not avenge the Church, because he was an 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 15 

apostate, will you, O Emperor, avenge the harm done the 
synagogue, because you are a Christian? 

And what will Christ say later to you? Do you not recall 
that' He sent word to blessed David through Nathan the 
Prophet? 15 C I have chosen you, the youngest of your brethren, 
and have made you an emperor from a private individual. 16 
The fruits of your seed I have put upon the imperial throne. 
I have made barbarian nations 17 subject to you; I have given 
you peace; I have brought your captive enemy 18 into power. 
You had no grain to feed your army; I threw open the gates 
to you; I opened the granaries to you by the hand of the 
enemies themselves. Your enemy prepared provisions for 
themselves and gave them to you, I troubled the counsels of 
your enemy so that he laid himself bare. I so fettered the 
usurper 19 of the Empire and bound his mind that while he 
still had a chance to flee, as though afraid that one of his 
men should elude you, he shut himself in with them all. His 
officer 20 and forces on the other element, 21 whom I had 
routed earlier, so that they would not join battle against you, 
I brought together again to complete your victory. Your 
army gathered from many unruly nations I bade keep faith 
and peace and concord, as if of one nation. And when there 
was great danger that the perfidious plans of the barbarians 
would penetrate the Alps, in order that you might conquer 
and suffer no loss, I brought you victory within the very 
ramparts of the Alps. 22 I, then, caused you to triumph over 
your enemy, and are you giving my enemies a triumph over 
my people?' 

15 Cf. 2 Kings 7.8-17. 

16 In 382. 

17 The Goths. 

18 Athanaric. 

19 Maximus. 

20 Adragathius. 

21 The sea. 

22 Cf. Sozomen 4.46 and Dudden, op. at. 354. 



16 SAINT AMBROSE 

Was not Maxirnus undone because, when he heard that the 
synagogue at Rome had been burned, before the set time for 
his expedition, he sent an edict to Rome, as if he were the 
champion of public order? On this account the Christian 
people said: 'No good is in store for him ! The king has turned 
Jew, we have heard he is a defender of those whom Christ 
soon made trial of, He who died for sinners.' 23 If this was 
said of his mere words, what will be said of your actual 
punishment? He was soon conquered by the Franks, by the 
Saxon nation, in Sicily, at Siscia, at Pettau; in fact, every- 
where. What has the believer in common with this unbeliever? 
Marks of his baseness should die with the base one. The victor 
should not imitate, but condemn his injury of the vanquished 
for his offenses. 

I have recounted these details for you, not through 
ingratitude, but I have enumerated them as rightly due to 
you, so that by heeding these warnings you, who have been 
given more, will love the more. When Simon answered in 
these words, the Lord Jesus said: 'Thou hast judged rightly/ 
and turning at once to the woman anointing His feet, setting 
forth an example for the Church, He said to Simon: 
'Wherefore I say to thee, her sins, many as they are, shall be 
forgiven her, because she has loved much. But he to whom 
little is forgiven, loves little.' 24 This is the woman who 
entered -the house of the Pharisee and cast off the Jew, but 
gained Christ, for the Church shut out the synagogue. Why 
is trial again being made within the household of Christ? Is 
it that the synagogue may shut out the Church from the 
bosom of faith, from the house of Christ? 

These- matters, O Emperor, I have gathered together in 
this address out of love and attachment to you, I am under 
obligation for your kindnesses at my requests when you 



23 Rom. 5.6. 

24 Luke 7,43,17. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 17 

released many from exile, from prisons, and from the extreme 
penalty of death. I am bound to prefer hurting your feelings 
for the sake of your welfare ( for no one has greater confidence 
than one who loves from the heart, and certainly no one 
should harm one whose interests he has at heart) ; and I 
should not fear to lose in one moment the favor which other 
bishops and I have enjoyed for so many years. Yet it is not 
the loss of that favor that I would- avert, but the peril to 
salvation. 

How important it is for you, O Emperor, not to feel 
bound to investigate or punish a matter which no one up to 
now has investigated or punished! It is a serious matter to 
jeopardize your faith in behalf of the Jews. When Gideon 
had slain the sacred calf, the heathens said: c Let the gods 
themselves avenge the injury done to them.' 25 Whose task is 
it to avenge the synagogue? Christ whom they slew, whom 
they denied? Or will God the Father avenge those who did 
not accept the Father, since they did not accept the Son? 
Whose task is it to avenge the heresy of the Valentinians? 
How can your Piety avenge them when it has given orders 
for them to be denied entrance and has denied them the 
right of assembly? If I give you the example of Josias as a 
king approved by God, will you condemn in them what was 
approved in him?" 6 

Yet, if you have little faith in me, bid those bishops 
assemble whom you do esteem. Discuss with them, O Em- 
peror, what ought to be done without injury to the faith. If 
you consult your officers on money matters, how much fairer 
is it to consult the Lord's priests on a religious matter! 

Let your Clemency consider how many persons plot and 
spy on the Church. If they find a slight crack, they drive in 
an arrow. I speak in the manner of men, but God is more 

25 Judges 5.32. 

26 Cf. 4 Kings 22.1,2, 



18 SAINT AMBROSE 

feared than men, for He is rightly preferred even to emperors. 
If someone considers it proper to show deference to a friend, 
or parents or relatives, I think it rightly should be shown to 
God and that He should be preferred to all Consult your 
best interests, O Emperor, or allow me to consult mine. 

What shall be my excuse later if it is found out that by 
authority emanating from here some Christians were slain by 
the sword or clubs or leaden balls? How will I justify such a 
deed? How will I make excuse to those bishops who sorely 
lament the fact that priests or other ministers of the Church 
who have performed their office for thirty years and more are 
dragged away from their sacred tasks and assigned to curial 
offices? If men who war for you are kept for a set time of 
service, how much more ought you to be considerate of those 
who war for God? How, I say, shall I justify this before 
bishops who complain about the clergy and write that the 
churches are being ruined by the serious attacks being made 
on them? 

For this reason, I wanted this to come to the notice of 
your Clemency. You will, when it pleases you, condescend to 
consult and temper your wishes; but exclude and put an end 
to that which troubles me, and rightly so. Do yourself what 
you ordered to be done, even if he [the count] is not going 
to do it. I would rather that you be merciful than that he fail 
to do what he was ordered. 

In return for those whom you now have, you ought to 
cultivate and win the Lord's mercy for the Roman Empire, 
for you have more for them than you hoped for yourself. 
Let their favor, their well-being, appeal to you in these words 
of mine. I fear that you will entrust your cause to another's 
will. You still have everything in its original state. In this I 
pledge myself to our God for you: Have no scruple over 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 19 

your oath. Can that displease God which is corrected for 
His honor? Alter nothing in that letter, whether it was sent or 
not. Order another to be written, which will be filled with 
faith, with piety. You can still correct yourself; I cannot hide 
the truth. 

You forgave the people of Antioch the injury they offered 
you; 27 you recalled your enemy's 28 daughters and gave them 
to a relative to rear, and from your own treasury you sent 
your enemy's mother a pension. This great faith and piety 
toward God will be blackened by the present deed. I beg 
you, after sparing enemies in arms and saving personal 
enemies, do not presume to punish Christians with such 
intensity. 

Now, O Emperor, I beg you not to hear me with con- 
tempt, for I fear for you and for myself, as says the holy 
man: 'Wherefore was I born to see the ruin of my people,' 29 
that I should commit an offense against God? Indeed, I have 
done what I could do honorably, that you might hear me in 
the palace rather than make it necessary to hear me in the 
Church. 



27 The insurrection of 387 in protest against additional taxes to support 
a celebration honoring Arcadius. 

28 It is doubtful whether Maximus had any children except his son 
Victor. 

29 1 Mach. 2.7. 



20 SAINT AMBROSE 

5. To the most august Emperor Theodosius, Ambrose, bishop 1 

Sweet to me is the recollection of your friendship in the past, 
and I recall the favor of benefits which you have bestowed 
with supreme favor upon others at my frequent requests. 
Hence, you may infer that I could not have avoided meeting 
you through any feeling of ingratitude, for I had always 
heretofore ardently desired your coming, I shall briefly set 
forth the reason for acting as I did. 

I saw that I alone of your court had been deprived of the 
natural right of a hearing, so that I was also shorn of the 
privilege of speaking. You were disturbed several times 
because certain decisions in your consistory came to my 
knowledge. I, therefore, am without a share in the common 
privilege, although the Lord Jesus says: 'Nothing is hidden 
that will not be made manifest.' 2 As far as I could, then, I 
reverently complied with the will of the emperor, and took 
heed that you yourself should have no cause for displeasure 
for I managed to have none of the imperial decrees brought 
to my knowledge. And if I am ever present, either I shall 
not hear out of fear of all giving me a reputation for 
conniving, or I shall hear in such a way that, though my 
ears are open, my voice is stifled so that I cannot utter what 
I have heard, lest I do injury to those who have incurred the 
suspicion of treachery. 

What, therefore, could I do? Not hear? -I could not stop 
my ears with the wax of which old fables [tell]. Should I 
disclose what I heard? But I had to be on my guard in what 

1 Written from Aquiieia, to Theodosius, who was in Milan to excite 
the emperor to repentance for ordering the massacre of the inhab- 
itants of Thossalonica. The subsequent details are related in Ambrose's 
Letter 62 to Marcel lina. Palanque dates this letter about September 
8, 890. McGuire, following tradition and the findings of Seeck, accepts 
the date as c. April, 390; cf. Catholic Historical Review !>i> 0936-1957) 
315. 

2 Luke 8.17. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 21 

I said for fear of your orders, lest a bloody deed be committed. 
Should I keep silence? Then would my conscience be bound, 
my voice snatched from me most wretched of all conditions. 
And where would be the significance of the saying that if a 
bishop declare not to the wicked, the wicked shall die in his 
iniquity, and the bishop shall be guilty of punishment because 
he has not warned the wicked? 3 

Understand this, august Emperor ! I cannot deny that you 
are zealous for the faith; I do not disavow that you have a 
fear of God but you have a natural vehemence which you 
quickly change to pity when one endeavors to soothe it. 
When one stirs it up, you so excite it that you can hardly 
check it. If only no one would enkindle it, if no one would 
arouse it! This I gladly commend to you: Restrain yourself, 
and conquer by love of duty your natural impetuosity. 

This vehemence I have preferred to commend privately to 
your own considerations rather than to rouse it publicly 
perchance by any action of mine. I preferred to fail somewhat 
in my duty rather than in submission, that others should 
look for priestly authority in me instead of your failing to 
find reverence in me, who am most devoted. The result 
would be that, though you restrained your vehemence, your 
ability to get counsel might be unimpaired. I proffered the 
excuse of bodily illness, truly severe, and only to be eased by 
men being milder. Yet I would have preferred to die rather 
than not await your arrival in two or three days. But that 
was not what I did. 

The affair which took place in the city of Thessalonica 
and with no precedent within memory, that which I could 
not prevent from taking place, which I had declared would 
be most atrocious when I entered pleas against it so many 
times, and which you yourself, by revoking it too late, 
manifestly considered to have been very serious, this when 

3 Cf. Ezech. 3.19,20. 



22 SAINT AMBROSE 

done I could not extenuate. It was first heard of when the 
synod had met on the arrival of Gallican bishops. 4 No one 
failed to lament, no one took it lightly. Your being in fellow- 
ship with Ambrose was not an excuse for your deed; blame 
for what had been done would have been heaped upon me 
even more had no one said there must needs be a reconcilation 
with our God. 

Are you ashamed., O Emperor, to do what King David 
the Prophet did, the forefather of the family of Christ 
according to the flesh? He was told that a rich man who 
had many flocks had seized and killed a poor man's one ram 
on the arrival of a guest, and recognizing that he himself 
was being condemned in this tale, for he had himself done 
so, he said: C I have sinned against the Lord.' 5 Do not be 
impatient, O Emperor, if it is said to you: 'You have done 
what was declared to King David by the prophet.' For if you 
listen carefully to this and say; C I have sinned against the 
Lord/ if you repeat the words of the royal Prophet; 'Come, 
let us adore and fall down before him, and weep before our 
Lord who made us, JG it will be said also to you: 'Since you 
repent, the Lord forgives you your sin and you shall not die/ 7 

Again, when David had ordered the people to be num- 
bered, he was smitten in heart and said to the Lord: *I 
have sinned very much in the command I have made, and 
now, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, because 
I have sinned exceedingly/ And the Prophet Nathan was 
sent again to him to offer him the choice of three things, that 
he might select what he chose: a famine in the land for 
three years, flight from the face of his enemies for three 
months, or pestilence in the land for three days. And David 
answered: c These three things are a great strait to me, yet I 

4 It is not known to what council Ambrose refers, 

5 2 Kings 12,15. 

6 Ps. 94.6. 

7 2 Kings 12.13. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 23 

shall fall into the hand of the Lord since his mercies are 
exceedingly great, and I shall not fall into the hands of men.' 8 
His fault was that he desired to know the number of all the 
people who were with him, and the knowledge of this he 
should have left to God alone. 

And it is said that when the pestilence came upon the 
people on the first day at dinner time, when David saw the 
angel striking the people, he said: C I have sinned, I, the 
shepherd, have done evil and this flock, what has it done? 
Let your hand be upon me, and upon my father's house.' 9 
So the Lord repented and He bade the angel to spare the 
people, but David to offer sacrifice, for sacrifices were then 
offered for sin, but now they are sacrifices of penance. Thus, 
by his humility he became more acceptable to God, for it is not 
strange that man sins, but it is reprehensible if he does not 
acknowledge that he has erred and humble himself before 
God. 

Holy Job, also powerful in this world, says: 'I have not 
hid my sin, but declared it before all the people.' 10 To fierce 
King Saul his own son Jonathan said: 'Sin not against thy 
servant David, 5 and 'Why wilt thou sin against innocent 
blood by killing David, who is without fault?' 11 Although he 
was a king, he sinned if he killed the innocent. Finally, even 
David, when he was in possession of his kingdom and had 
heard that an innocent man named Abner was slain by Joab, 
the leader of his army, said: C I and my kingdom are innocent 
now and forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner,' 12 
and he fasted in sorrow. 

These things I have written not to disconcert you but that 
the examples of kings may stir you to remove this sin from 

8 2, Kings 24.10,14. 

9 2 Kings 24.17. 

10 Job 31.34 (Scptuagint) . 

11 1 Kings 19.4,5. 

12 2 Kings 3.28. 



24 SAINT AMBROSE 

your kingdom, for you will remove it by humbling your soul 
before God. You are a man, you have met temptation- 
conquer it. Sin is not removed except by tears and penance. 
No angel or archangel can remove it; it is God Himself who 
alone can say: C I am with you 1 ; 13 if we have sinned, He does 
not forgive us unless we do penance. 

I urge, I ask, I beg, I warn, for my grief is that you, who 
were a model of unheard-of piety, who had reached the apex 
of clemency, who would not allow the guilty to be in peril, 
are not now mourning that so many guiltless have perished. 
Although you waged battles most successfully, and were 
praiseworthy also in other respects, the apex of your deeds 
was always your piety. The Devil envied you this, your most 
outstanding possession. Conquer him while you still have the 
means of doing so. Do not add another sin to your sin nor 
follow a course of action which has injured many followers. 

I among all other men, a debtor to your Piety, to whom I 
cannot be ungrateful, this piety which I discover in many 
emperors and match in only one, I, I say, have no charge of 
arrogance against you, but I do have one of fear. I dare not 
offer the Holy Sacrifice if you intend to be present. Can that 
which is not allowable, after the blood of one man is shed, 
be allowable when many persons 1 blood was shed? I think not. 

Lastly, I am writing with my own hand what you alone 
may read. Thus, may the Lord free me from all anxieties, 
for I have learned very definitely what I may not do, not 
from man nor through man. In my anxiety, on the very 
night that I was preparing to set forth you appeared [in my 
dreams] to have come to the church and I was not allowed 
to offer the Holy Sacrifice. I say nothing of the other things 
I could have avoided, but bore for love of you, as I believe. 
May the Lord make all things pass tranquilly. Our God 



13 Matt. 28.20. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 25 

admonishes us In many ways, by heavenly signs, 14 by the 
warnings of the Prophets, and He wills that we under- 
stand even by the visions of sinners. So we will ask Him to 
remove these disturbances, to preserve peace for you who are 
rulers, that the faith and peace of the Church continue, for 
It avails much if her emperors be pious Christians. 

You certainly wish to be approved by God. 'There is a 
time for everything.,' 15 as it is written: 'It is time to act, 
O Lord,' 10 and The time of mercy, O God. 317 You will make 
your offering then when you receive permission to sacrifice, 
when your offering has been acceptable to God. Would it 
not delight me to have the emperor's favor, so that I could 
act in accord with your will if the case allowed? Prayer by 
itself is sacrifice, it brings pardon when the other [sacrifice] 
causes offence, for the one bespeaks humility, the other 
contempt. We have God's word that He prefers the doing of 
His command to the offering of sacrifice. God proclaims 
this, Moses declares it to the people, Paul preaches it to the 
Gentiles. Do at the right moment what you know is of 
greater value. 1 desire mercy, 5 it says, "and not sacrifice.' 18 
Are they not more Christian who condemn their sin than 
they who hope to defend it, for T.he just is first accuser of 
himself. >19 One who accuses himself when he has sinned is 
just, not one who praises himself. 

I wish, O Emperor, that before this you had relied upon 
me rather than on your own habits. Since I realize that you 

14 Palanque and others think Ambrose's reference to 'heavenly signs' 
refers to a comet which appeared and was visible from August 22 to 
September 17, 390. McGuire (op. cit. 316) does not think Ambrose 
would use a comet as a 'divine sign of warning/ 

15 Eccle. 3,1. 

16 Ps. 118.126. 

17 Ps. 68.14. 

18 Matt. 9.13. 

39 Prov. 18.17 (Scptuagint) . 



26 SAINT AMBROSE 

are quick to pardon, quick to retract, as you have so often 
done, you have now been prevented and I have not shirked 
what I had no need to fear. But, thanks be to the Lord who 
wills to chastise His servants lest He lose them. This I have 
in common with the Prophets and you will have it in common 
with the saints. 

Shall I not value the father of Gratian 20 more than my 
eyes? Your other blessed offspring deserves pardon. I con- 
ferred a sweet name formerly on those to whom I bore a 
mutual love, I love, I cherish, I attend you with prayers. If 
you trust me, follow me; if, I say, you trust me, acknowledge 
what I say; if you do not trust me, pardon what I do in 
esteeming God more than you. May you, the most blessed 
and eminent Emperor Augustus, together with your holy 
offspring, enjoy perpetual peace. 

4. Ambrose to Theodosius the Emperor (August* 392 ) l 

Word from your Clemency has broken my silence, 2 for I 
had decided that amid so great sorrows I could do nothing 
better than withdraw as far as possible. Yet, being unable to 
hide away in some retreat or abdicate my priestly state, I at 
least retired within myself by my silence. 

I sorrow, I confess, with bitter sorrow not only that 
Augustus Valentinian has died so young, but also because, 
instructed in the faith and molded by your teaching, he had 
become so devoted toward our God and clung to me with so 

20 It is uncertain which Gratian is referred to in this passage. 

1 The Consolation on the Death of Valentinian, translated by R. J. 
Deferred in Volume 22 of this series (New York 1953} should be read 
in connection with this letter. 

2 On the letter of Theodosius to Ambrose, see Theodorct, H. 5.15. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 27 

much affection as to love now one whom he formerly per- 
secuted; he now esteemed as a father one whom he formerly 
repulsed as an enemy. I mention this, not as a reminder of 
his former wrong-doing, but as proof of his conversion. 
The first-named [wrong-doing] was learned from others; the 
latter was his own; and he clung so firmly to what you 
inspired that he was proof against the arguments of his 
mother. He used to say he had been reared by me; he longed 
for me as for a solicitous parent and when some persons 
made believe they had news of my arrival, he awaited it 
impatiently. Nay, even on the days of great mourning, 3 
although he had within the territory of Gaul saintly and 
eminent bishops of the Lord, he felt obliged to write to me to 
give him the sacrament of baptism. In this way, unreasonably, 
but lovingly, he gave proof of his affection toward me. 

Shall I not sigh for him with my inmost breath? Shall I 
not embrace him within the deepest recesses of my heart and 
soul? Shall I think that he is dead to me? Indeed, he is more 
than dead to me. How grateful I was to the Lord that he 
was so changed toward me, so improved, and had assumed 
a character so much more mature. How grateful was I to 
your Clemency, also, that you had not only restored him to 
power, but, what is more, had taught him your own faith 
and piety. Shall I not grieve that, while young in years, before 
he had attained as he desired the grace of the sacraments, 
he met with a sudden death? 4 You have comforted my soul 
in condescending to bear witness to my grief. I have you, 
O Emperor, as judge of my affections and interpreter of my 
thoughts. 

But we shall have time to weep later; let us now attend to 
his burial which your Clemency has commanded to take 

3 The days of Holy Week. 

4 For the various theories of his death, cf. Deferrari, op. clt. 264. 



28 SAINT AMBROSE 

place here. If he has died without baptism, I now withhold 
what I know. We have here a very beautiful porphyry vessel, 
well suited to the purpose; Maximian, the colleague of 
Diocletian, was so buried. There are also very precious 
porphyry tablets with which a cover may be made to encase 
the king's remains. 

This was made ready but we awaited your Clemency's 
command; its arrival has greatly comforted your holy daugh- 
ters, 5 sisters of your son Valentinian, who are deeply affected 
and the more so, since for a long time they received no word 
from you. Your message has been no small consolation to 
them, but while the remains are unburied they do not spare 
themselves, for they daily imagine that they are attending 
the funeral of their brother. In truth, they are never without 
many tears and heavy sorrow, and whenever they visit the 
body they return almost lifeless. It will be good for them and 
for the dear remains if the burial is hastened, lest the summer 
heat utterly dissolve them, for we have hardly passed its 
first tide. 

Your command I observe and commend to the Lord. May 
the Lord love you, for you love the Lord's servants. 

5. Ambrose to Theodosius the Emperor (September, 394) 

You thought, most blessed Emperor, as I learned from 
your august letter, that I kept away from Milan because I 
believed your cause was abandoned by God. But I have not 
been so unwise or so unmindful of your virtue and your 
merits as not to know that the help of heaven would attend 
your Piety while you were protecting the Roman Empire 

5 Justa and Grata, sisters of Valentinian, in whose presence Ambrose 
delivered the funeral speech on Valentinian. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 29 

from the ravages of the barbarian robber and from the 
dominion of an unworthy usurper. 1 

I hastened to return here as soon as I learned that the 
one whom I deemed it right to avoid was now gone, for I 
had not abandoned the Church at Milan entrusted to me by 
the judgment of the Lord. I was avoiding the presence of one 
who had involved himself in sacrilege. I returned, therefore, 
about the first of August and I have been here since that 
day. Here, Augustus, your Clemency's letter reached me. 

Thanks be to the Lord our God who has responded to 
your faith and piety ! He has refashioned an ancient type of 
holiness, letting us see in our time that which we marvel at as 
we read the Scriptures, namely, the great presence of divine 
help in battles, so that mountain heights have not slowed up 
the course of your coming, nor were enemy arms a hindrance. 

In return for these favors you realize that I should give 
thanks to the Lord our God, Gladly shall I do so, mindful of 
your merit. It is certain that the oblation offered in your 
name will be pleasing to God, and what a mark of great 
devotion and faith is this! Other emperors, immediately 
upon a victory, order the erection of triumphal arches or 
other monuments of their triumphs. Your Clemency prepares 
an oblation to God and desires an offering and thanksgiving 
to be presented by priests to the Lord. 

Although I am unworthy and unequal to the great priv- 
ilege, and the solemnizing of your prayers, I will describe what 
I have done. I took the letter of your Piety with me to the 
altar. I laid it on the altar. I held it in my hand when I 
offered the Sacrifice, so that your faith might speak through 
my words, and the letter of the Augustus discharge the 
function of the priest's offering. 2 

1 See Letter 11, below. , 

2 An interesting revelation of the manner of offering Mass for another's 
intention in the early history of the Church. 



30 SAINT AMBROSE 

Truly Is the Lord propitious to the Roman Empire when 
He chooses such a prince and father of princes, whose virtue 
and power, set upon such a triumphant pinnacle of power, 
rests on such humility that he surpasses emperors by his 
virtue and priests by his humility. What can I yet hope for? 
What do I yet desire? You have everything and from what is 
yours I shall take the full measure of prayers. You are pious, 
O Emperor, and you possess the utmost clemency. 

Yet I hope that you will experience even more and more 
an increase of piety, for God can give nothing more excellent 
than this, that through your Clemency the Church^ of God, 
as it rejoices in the peace and tranquility of the innocent, 
may even so be gladdened by your pardoning of the guilty. 
Pardon especially those who have not offended before. May 
the Lord preserve your Clemency. Amen. 

6. Ambrose to Theodosius the Emperor (September, 394) 

Although I have written but recently to your august 
Clemency and have done so a second time, it did not seem to 
me that I had responded sufficiently to the duty of inter- 
course by so answering in turn, for I have been enriched so 
by the frequent benefits of your Clemency that I can in no 
way repay the services I owe, most blessed and august 
Emperor. 

Therefore, since that first occasion was not to be lost when, 
through your chamberlain., 1 gave thanks to your Clemency 
and performed the duty of addressing you, lest you think 
that it was through negligence rather than need that I did 
not write you on the previous occasion, I had to find a 
reason for sending my dutiful greeting to your Piety. 

To deliver my letter in a manner befitting you I am 
sending my son, the deacon Felix, that he may at one and the 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 31 

same time represent me and also bring the appeal of those 
who fled to the Church, the mother of your Piety, begging 
mercy. I could not bear their tears but anticipated by my 
entreaty the coming of your Clemency. 

Ours is a great request, but we are asking it of one to 
whom the Lord has granted unheard-of wonders, of whose 
clemency we know and whose piety we have as a pledge. 
Hence, we confess that we hope for more in that you have 
conquered by your virtue and ought also conquer yourself 
by your piety. It is said that your victory was granted in the 
manner of the ancients, with ancient portents like those of 
blessed Moses, of blessed Josue the son of Nun, of Samuel, 
and of David; it was granted not by man's foresight but by 
the outpouring of heavenly grace. We here beg a like piety 
by whose excellence so great a victory has been gained. 

7. Ambrose, bishop, to the most blessed prince and most 
Christian Emperor, Valentinian (Summer, 384 ) l 

Not only are all men under the sway of Rome in the service 
of you, the emperors and princes of the earth, but you your- 
selves are also in the service of almighty God and of our holy 
faith. Salvation will not be assured unless each one truly 
worships the true God, that is, the God of the Christians, by 
whom all things are governed. He alone is the true God 
who is worshiped with the inmost being: 'For the gods of 
the gentiles are idols,' as Scripture says. 2 

Whoever serves this true God, receiving Him with deep 
affection, in order to worship Him, displays not lying and 

1 This letter gave occasion to the Relatio of Symmachus. These works 
and Ambrose's letter to Eugenius are edited and commented upon by 
J. Wytzes, Der Streit urn den Altar der Viktoria (Amsterdam 1936) . 

2 Ps. 95.5. 



32 SAINT AMBROSE 

treachery, but a zeal and devotion to the faith. And if he 
owes not these, he at least owes no worship to idols and to 
profane ceremonial cults. No one deceives God to whom all 
things, even the secrets of the heart, are manifest. 

Therefore, since you have truly shown your faith in God, 
most Christian Emperor, I am amazed that your zeal for the 
faith, your protection and devotion have given hope to some 
persons that you are now obligated to erect altars to the gods 
of the heathens and to furnish credit for the upkeep of profane 
sacrifices. This expense, which for a long time was charged to 
the revenues or to the treasury, you will appear to expend 
out of your own resources, rather than to be making 
restitution from it. 

They are complaining of their losses, they who were never 
sparing of our blood, who ruined our church buildings. They 
also ask you to give * them privileges, who by the recent 
Julian law refused to us the ordinary privilege of preaching 
and teaching, those privileges by which even Christians have 
often been made to apostatize. 3 By these privileges they have 
wanted to win some persons by improvidence and others 
through the difficulty of bearing public offices; and, since all 
are not found steadfast, several, even under Christian princes, 
have fallen from the faith. 

If these privileges had not already been abolished, I 
would approve their being done away with by your authority. 
But, since these were almost universally banned and sup- 
pressed by several predecessors and annulled by rescript at 
Rome by your Clemency's brother, Gratian of august 
memory, through the logic of his true faith, do not, I beg 
you, repeal these measures on religion or tear up your brother's 
edicts. It does not occur to anyone to interfere rashly in a 

S Wytzes omits this passage in the Latin text, hut translates it in the 
German. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 33 

civil matter which is a statute of law, and here you are over- 
riding an edict on religion. 

Let no one take advantage of your youth; if it is a pagan 
who makes these demands, he ought not ensnare your mind 
in the meshes of superstition, but by his zeal he should teach 
and instruct you how to be zealous for the true faith since 
he defends untruth with so much zeal. I agree that we must 
be respectful of the true merits of men of distinction, but it 
is certain that God should be preferred to all men. 

If one is seeking advice on military affairs, he should 
await the advice of a man skilled in battle and should hold 
to his opinion. Now that it is a matter of religion, think of 
God. No one is offended when almighty God is more esteemed 
than he is. God has His opinion. You do not compel a man 
to worship what he does not wish, being unwilling. You, too, 
O Emperor, are allowed the same, and everyone should bear 
up graciously if he does not secure from the emperor what he 
would impatiently bear if the emperor desired to wrest it 
from him. The pagans themselves are wont to detest one 
who betrays his conscience ; each one should be free to defend 
faithfully and keep his own principles. 

But if some men, Christians in name, think such a decree 
should be promulgated, let not their mere words overwhelm 
your mind, their vain assumptions deceive you. Whoever 
gives this advice or whoever agrees to it is offering sacrifice. 
But the sacrifice of one is more tolerable than the downfall of 
all. In this the whole number of Christian Senators is in 
danger. 

If today some pagan emperor God forbid! should set 
up an altar to idols and compel Christians to hold their 
meetings there, to be present at the sacrifices, so that the 
Christian's breath and nostrils would be filled with the ashes 
from the altar, cinders from the sacrifice, and smoke from the 
wood; and if he would give his opinion in the curia, where in 



34 SAINT AMBROSE 

giving their opinion they would be forced to swear at the 
altar of the idol (for this is how they interpret the altar 
erected so that, as they think, each meeting, by his oath, will 
be held in its midst, although the curia already has a majority 
number of Christians), the Christian compelled to come into 
the Senate would on these conditions think it a persecution. 
This is being done quite generally. They are forced to meet 
under penalties. Now that you are the emperor, will Christians 
be forced to take their oath on an altar? What does taking an 
oath mean except to put one's trust in the divine power of 
one who you think is the judge of your good faith? Now 
that you are the emperor, is this being asked for and expected? 
Are you bidding that an altar be raised and money allocated 
for profane sacrifices? 

A decree like this cannot be enforced without sacrilege. I 
beg you not to make such a decree, nor pass a law, nor sign 
a decree of this sort. As a priest of Christ, I appeal to your 
faith. All priests would make the appeal with me if the 
sudden news which came to their ears were not unbelievable 
that such a measure was suggested in your council or 
demanded by the Senate. Do not let it be said that the Senate 
demanded this, A few pagans are usurping the name which is 
not theirs. When the same thing was tried about two years 
ago, Damasus, the holy bishop of the Roman Church, elected 
by God's judgment, sent me a counter-petition which the 
Christian senators had given him. In great numbers they 
protested that they had made no such demand, that they 
did not agree with such requests of the pagans or give their 
assent. In public and in private they murmured that they 
would not come to the Senate if such a measure were 
decreed. Is it dignified in your day, a Christian day, that 
Christian Senators be deprived of their dignity so that 
heathens may have deference paid to their unholy will? I 
sent this memorandum to the brother of your Clemency* 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 35 

wherein was clear evidence that the Senate had made no 
provision for the upkeep of superstition. 

Perhaps it may be said : c Why were they not present in the 
Senate when such proposals were being made? 3 They say 
clearly enough what they wish, by not being present; they 
have said enough by speaking to the emperor. Yet it is 
strange to us that they take from private individuals at Rome 
the liberty of resisting, while they are unwilling that you be 
free to withhold ordering what you do not approve and to 
maintain what you feel is right. 

Mindful, therefore, of the commission lately laid upon me 
I again call upon your faith, I call upon your judgment. Do 
not think that you have to give an answer favorable to the 
pagans, nor join to your answer in such a matter the 
sacrilege of your signature. Refer with assurance to the father 
of your Piety, Emperor Theodosius, whom you have been 
accustomed to consult in almost all matters of great impor- 
tance. Nothing is of more importance than religion; nothing 
is more exalted than faith. 

If this were a civil case, the opposing party would be 
guaranteed the right of reply. It is a religious case, and I, the 
bishop, am using that right. Let a copy of the appeal be 
given me, and I will answer more fully. And may it seem 
fit to you to consult your faith's opinion on all these matters. 
Certainly, if any other decision is reached, we bishops cannot 
tranquilly allow it and pretend not to notice. You will be 
allowed to come to the church, but either you will find there 
no priest or you will find one who will gainsay you. 

What will you answer the priest who says to you: c The 
Church does not want your gifts because you have adorned 
the heathen temples with gifts. The altar of Christ spurns 
your gifts since you have made an altar for idols. Yours is 
the voice, yours the hand, yours the signature, yours the 
work. The Lord Jesus scorns and spurns your worship since 



36 SAINT AMBROSE 

you have worshiped idols, for He said to you: "You cannot 
serve two masters." 4 Virgins consecrated to God have no 
privileges from you, and do Vestal virgins lay claim to them? 
Why do you ask for God's priests to whom you have brought 
the unholy demands of the pagans? We cannot be associated 
with another's error.' 

What will you answer to these words? That you are but a 
boy who has fallen? Every age is perfect in Christ, every one 
full of God. Childhood is not allowed to faith; even babes 
have confessed Christ before persecutors with fearless words. 

What will you answer your brother? Will he not say to 
you: 'Because I left you as emperor, I did not think I was 
vanquished; I did not grieve dying, because I had you as 
heir; I did not mourn in leaving my kingdom, because I 
believed that my imperial commands, especially those on 
divine religion, would last forever. I had set up these 
memorials of pious virtue, these trophies from the world, 
these spoils from the Devil, I offered these victories over the 
adversary of all in whom there is eternal victory. What more 
could my enemy take from me? You have annulled rny 
decrees; even he [Maximian], who took up arms against me, 
did not do this. In this I am wounded by a heavier weapon 
in that my brother has condemned my decrees. The better 
part of me is imperiled with you; that was death of the body, 
this the death of my reputation for virtue. Now my power is 
annulled and, more serious, is annulled by your acts, is an- 
nulled by my own family, and that is annulled which even my 
enemies had praised in me. If you have acquiesced willingly, 
you have destroyed my faith in you; if you have yielded 
unwillingly, you have betrayed your own faith. And this is 
even more serious, the fact that I am imperiled with you.' 

What will you answer your father, who will confront you 
with great sorrow, saying: 'Son, you have judged me very 



4 Matt. 6.24. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 37 

ill, thinking that I would have connived with the pagans. No 
one ever told me that there was an altar in the Roman 
Senate House; I had never believed such wickedness, that in 
the common meeting place of Christians and pagans the 
pagans offered sacrifice, that is, the pagans reviled the 
Christians present and Christians unwillingly were forced to 
attend the sacrifices. When I was emperor, many kinds of 
crimes were committed. I punished those I detected. If some 
one escaped my notice, should it be said I approved what no 
one had appraised me? You have judged me very ill if the 
Gentiles' superstition and not my faith preserved the Empire. 3 
Wherefore, O Emperor, you see that if you decree anything 
of this kind you will offer injury first to God and then to your 
father and brother; I beg you do what you know will benefit 
your own salvation before God. 5 



8. Ambrose, bishop, to the most blessed prince and most 
dement Emperor Valentinian Augustus (Autumn, 384) 

The illustrious prefect of the city, Symmachus, has made 
an appeal to your Clemency that the altar which was removed 
from the Senate House in the city of Rome be restored to its 
place. 1 You, O Emperor, still young in age, a new recruit 

5 In his second letter on this subject to Valentinian, Ambrose seems to 
imply that Valentinian had already rejected the proposal of the Senate 
when he addressed this letter to him. He likewise says (Com. Vol. 19) 
that 'when all who were present in the consistory, Christians and 
pagans alike, said that these privileges should be restored, he alone 
[Valentinian] like Daniel, with the spirit of God aroused within him, 
denounced the Christians for lack of faith and resisted the pagans by 
saying: "How can you think that what my brother took away should 
be restored by me?" since thereby both his religion and his brother, by 
whom he was unwilling to be surpassed in piety, would be offended.' 
(Trans. Deferrari, Fathers of the Church 22, pp. 274-275) . The above 
statement is difficult to reconcile with the general tone of reproof in 
this letter. 



1 Symmachus, Memorial, ed. J. Wytzes, op. cit. 48-61. 



38 SAINT AMBROSE 

without experience, but a veteran in faith, did not approve 
the appeal of the pagans. The very moment I learned this I 
presented a request in which, although I stated what seemed 
necessary to suggest, I asked that I be given a copy of the 
appeal. 

Not doubtful, therefore, regarding your faith, but foreseeing 
the care that is necessary, and being confident of a kindly 
consideration, I am answering the demands of the appeal 
with this discourse, making this one request that you will not 
expect eloquence of speech but the force of facts. For, as 
holy Scripture teaches, 2 the tongue of the wise and studious 
man is golden, decked with glittering words and shining with 
the gleam of eloquence, as though some rich hue, capturing 
the eyes of the mind by the comeliness of its appearance, 
dazzling in its beauty. But this gold, if you examine it care- 
fully, though outwardly precious, within is a base metal 
Ponder well, I beg you, and examine the sect of the pagans. 
They sound weighty and grand; they support what is in- 
capable of being true; they talk of God, but they adore a 
statue. 

The distinguished prefect of the city has brought forth in 
his appeal three points which he considers of weight; namely, 
that (according to him) Rome is asking again for her ancient 
rites, that the priests and Vestal virgins should be given their 
stipends, and since these stipends have been refused to the 
priests there has been general famine. 

According to the first proposal, as he says, Rome is shedding 
tears with sad and mournful complaints, asking again for 
her ancient ceremonies. The sacred objects, he says, drove 
Hannibal from the city and the Senones from the Capitol 
But at the same time as the power of the sacred objects is 
proclaimed, their weakness is betrayed. Hannibal reviled the 
sacred objects of the Romans for a long time, and while the 



2 Cf. Eccle. 6.11; Prov. 15.2. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 39 

gods warred against themselves the conqueror reached the 
city's walls. Why did they allow themselves to be besieged 
when the weapons of their gods did battle for them? 

Why should I make mention of the Senones, whom, when 
they penetrated the innermost recesses of the Capitol, the 
Roman forces could not have withstood had not a goose 
(with its frightened cackling) betrayed them. See what sort 
of protectors guard the Roman temples. Where was Jupiter 
at that time? Was he making a statement through a goose? 

Why do I refuse to admit that their sacred objects warred 
in behalf of the Romans? Hannibal, too, worshiped the same 
gods. Let them choose whichever they wish. If these sacred 
objects conquered in the Romans, then they were overcome 
in the Carthaginians. If they triumphed in the Carthaginians, 
they certainly did not help the Romans. 

Let us have no more grudging complaint from the people of 
Rome. Rome has authorized no such complaints. She ad- 
dresses them with the words : 'Why do you stain me each day 
with the useless blood of the harmless herd? Trophies of 
victory depend not on entrails of sheep but on the strength 
of warriors. I subdued the world by other skills. Camillus 
was a soldier of mine who slew those who had captured the 
Tarpeian rock and brought back the standards which had 
been taken from the Capitol. Valor laid low those whom 
religion had not reached. What shall I* say of Attilius, 3 who 
bestowed the service of his death? Africanus found his 
triumphs not amid the altars of the Capitol but among the 
ranks of Hannibal. Why do you give me these examples of 
ancient heroes? I despise the ceremonies of the Neroes. Why 
mention emperors of two months' duration? And the down- 
fall of kings coupled with their rising? Or is it * something 
new, perhaps, for the barbarians to have overrun their 
territory? In those wretched and strange cases when an 

3 Regulus. 



40 ' SAINT AMBROSE 

emperor was held captive, and then a world held captive 
under an emperor, was it the Christians who revealed the 
fact that the ceremonies which promised victory were fal- 
sified? Was there then no altar of Victory? I lament my 
downfall. My old age is accompanied by shame over that 
disgraceful bloodshed. But I am not ashamed to be converted 
in my old age along with the whole world. Surely it is true 
that no age is too late to learn. Let that old age feel shame 
which cannot rectify itself. It is not the old age of years 
which is entitled to praise, but that of character. 4 There is 
no disgrace in going on to better things. This alone I had 
in common with the barbarians, that I did not know God 
before. Your sacrifice consists in the rite of being sprinkled 
with the blood of beasts. Why do you look for God's words 
in dead animals? Come and learn of the heavenly warfare 
which goes on on earth. We live here, but we war there. 5 
Let God Himself, who established the mystery of heaven, 
teach me about it, not man who does not know himself. 
Whom more than God shall I believe concerning God? How 
can I believe you who admit that you do not know what 
you worship?' 

So great a secret, it is said, cannot be reached by one 
road. We [Christians] know on God's word what you do not 
know. And what you know by conjecture we have discovered 
from the very wisdom and truth of God. Your ways do not 
agree with ours. You ask peace for your gods from the 
emperors; we beg peace for our emperors from Christ. You 
adore the works of your hands; we consider it wrong to 
think that anything which can be made is God. God does 
not wish to be worshiped in stones. Even your philosophers 
have ridiculed these ideas, 

But if you say that Christ is not God because you do not 

4 Of. Wisd. 4.9. 

5 Jn heaven. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 41 

believe that He died (for you do not realize that that was a 
death of the body not of the divinity, which has brought it 
about that no believer will die), why is this so senseless to 
you who worship with insult and disparage with honor, 
thinking that your god is a piece of wood? O worship most 
insulting! You do not believe that Christ could have died. 
O honorable stubborness! 

But, says he, the ancient altars should be restored to the 
images, the ornaments to the shrines. Let these demands be 
made by one who shares their superstition. A Christian 
emperor knows how to honor the altar of Christ alone. Why 
do they force pious hands and faithful lips to do service to 
their sacrilege? Let the voice of our emperor utter the name 
of Christ and call on Him only whom he is conscious of, 
for c the heart of the king is in the hand of God.' 6 Has any 
heathen emperor raised an altar to Christ? While they 
demand the restoration of all things which used to be, they 
show by their own example what great reverence Christian 
emperors should give to the religion which they follow, since 
the heathens offered everything to their superstitions. 

We had our beginning long ago, and now they are follow- 
ing those whom they excluded. We glory in [shedding] our 
blood; they are disturbed by the spending of money. We 
think these acts take the place of victory; they reckon them 
a loss. Never did they confer more upon us than when they 
ordered Christians scourged and outlawed and put to death. 
Religion made a reward out of that which unbelief thought 
was a punishment. See these magnanimous individuals! We 
have increased through our losses, through want, through 
punishment. They do not believe that their ceremonies can 
continue unless donations continue. 

Let the Vestal virgins, he says, keep their privileged state. 
Let men say this who are not able to believe what virginity 

6 Prov. 2.1. 



42 SAINT AMBROSE 

can do without reward. Let them derive encouragement 
from gainful means, having no confidence in virtue. How 
many virgins get the rewards promised to them? About 
seven Vestal virgins are accepted. Lo! that is the whole 
number of those attracted by fillets and chaplets for the 
head, or purple-dyed robes, the pomp of a litter surrounded 
by a group of attendants, the greatest privileges, great gains, 
and a set period of virginity. 

Let them raise the eye of the mind and of the body and 
see a nation of modesty, a people of purity, an assembly of 
virginity. Fillets are not the adornment of the head but a 
veil in common use, ennobled by chastity. The finery of 
beauty is not sought after, it is relinquished. There are none 
of those purple insignia, no charming luxuries, but rather the 
practice of fasts, no privileges, no gains. All are such, in 
fine, that you would think enjoyment restrained while duties 
are performed. But while they perform their duty, enjoyment 
grows apace. Chastity mounts by its own sacrifices. That is 
not virginity which is bought for a price and not kept through 
a desire for the virtue. That is not purity which is paid for 
with money at an auction and only for a time. Chastity's 
chief victory is to conquer the desire for wealth because 
eagerness for gain is a temptation to modesty. Let us grant 
that bountiful provisions should be given to virgins. What 
amounts will overflow upon Christians! What treasury will 
supply such riches? Or if they think that only Vestals should 
be given grants, are they not ashamed that they claimed the 
whole for themselves under heathen emperors and do not 
think that under Christian princes we should have a like 
share? 

They complain also that public support is not being duly 
granted to their priests and ministers. What a storm of words 
has sounded on this point! On the other hand, under 
recent laws we were denied even the Inheritance of private 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 43 

property, and no one is complaining. We do not think that 
is an injury because we do not grieve over losses. If a priest 
seeks the privilege of declining the municipal burden, he has 
to give up the paternal and ancestral ownership of all his 
property. If the heathens suffered this, how would they urge 
their complaint, if the priest had to buy free time for the 
exercise of his ministry by the loss of his patrimony, and 
purchase the power of exercising his public ministry at the 
expense of all his private means! In addition, alleging his 
vigils for the common safety, he must console himself with 
the reward of domestic poverty, because he has not sold his 
service but has obtained a favor. 

Compare the cases. You wish to excuse a decurion when 
it is not permitted the Church to excuse a priest. Wills are 
made out in favor of the ministers of the temples; no ordinary 
person is excluded, no one of the lowest condition, no one 
openly shameless; only the clergy are denied the common 
privilege, and they are the ones who offer common prayer 
for all men and render a common service. 7 They may have 
no legacy even from venerable widows, no gifts. And where 
no fault of character can be found 'a fine is imposed upon 
one's official capacity. A bequest made by a Christian widow 
to the priests of the temple is valid, but what is left to the 
ministers of God is invalid. I have described this not to com- 
plain but so that they will know of what I do not complain, 
for I prefer that we be poorer in money than in grace: 

They answer that what has been given or left to the 
Church has not been touched. Let them say also who it is 
that has taken away gifts from the temples, for that is what 
has been done to the Christians. If this had happened to 

7 An imperial constitution of 370 had forbidden clerics or ascetics to 
inherit from any woman or to receive any gift from a woman while 
they were both alive. In 390, Theodosius forbade deaconesses to 
leave their property to clerics or to the Church (Cod. Theod. 17.11.27) . 



44 SAINT AMBROSE 

heathens, the wrong would be rather a reprisal than an 
injury. Is it only now that justice is being demanded and a 
claim being made for fairness? Where was that feeling when 
they despoiled all Christians of their property, grudged them 
the very breath of life, and finally forbade them the privilege 
of burial, a privilege denied to none of the dead anywhere? 
The sea gave back those whom the heathens had thrown into 
it. This is the victory of faith, that they now reap the deeds 
of their ancestors. But, alas! What sense is there in seeking 
the favors of those whose actions were not approved by them? 

No one, however, has refused gifts to the shrines or 
legacies to the soothsayers; only their land has been taken 
away because they did not use in a religious way what they 
claimed as a right of religion. Why did they not make use of 
our practice if they are using us as an example? The Church 
owns nothing except her faith. It furnishes her with returns, 
it furnishes her with increase. The property of the Church is 
the support of the poor. Let them take account of how many 
captives the temples have brought back, what food they 
have provided for the poor, to what exiles they have furnished 
the means of a livelihood. Their lands have been taken away, 
not their rights. 

See, they say, a sad condition atoned for 8 a public famine 
avenged what had taken place and that which served only 
the advantage of priests began being advantageous to all. 
For this reason, they say, the bark was stripped from the 
woods and carried off and the fainting men drank with their 
lips 9 the unsavory sap. Therefore, changing Chaonian wine 
for the acorn, 1 () going back again to the food of cattle and to 
the nourishment of wretched provisions, they shook the oaks 

8 Virgil, Aencid 2,181. This is the first of numerous imitations of 
Virgil in this letter. See also', Sister M. I>. Dieclcrich, Vergil in the 
Works of St. Ambrose (Washington 1931). 

9 Cf. Aen. 2.2 11. 
10 Cf, Georg. 1.8. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 45 

and satisfied their dire hunger in the woods. 11 Surely, these 
are strange events in earth, which never happened before 
when the heathen superstition was fervent throughout the 
world ! In fact, when before did the crops mock the prayers 
of the greedy farmer with empty stalks, 12 or the blade of 
corn sought in the furrows deceive the hopes of the rustic 
crew? 13 

And how is it that the Greeks considered their oaks 
oracles, 14 except that they thought that the sustenance of 
their sylvan food is the gift of religion? Such they believe to 
be the gi% of their gods. What people except heathens have 
worshiped the trees of Dodona when they paid honor to the 
sorry food of the woods? Is it not likely that their gods in 
anger inflicted on them as a punishment what they, when 
they were appeased, used to give them as a gift? What 
fairness would there be of grudging the food denied to a few 
priests if they would deny it to everybody, for the vengeance 
would be more unbearable than the injury? There is no real 
reason for bringing such suffering on a world to accomplish 
one man's downfall as that the full-grown hope of the year 
should suddenly perish while the stalks were green. 

And, surely, it has been many years since the rights of 
temples were taken away throughout the world. Has it just 
now entered the mind of the heathen gods to avenge the 
wrong? Did the Nile fail to overflow in its accustomed course 
to avenge the losses of the priests of the city while it did not 
avenge its own? 

Suppose that they think that the wrongs done to their gods 
were avenged last year, why have they been unnoticed this 
year? The country people no longer tear up roots and feed 

11 Cf. Georg. 1.159. 

12 Cf. Georg. 1.226. 

13 Cf. Georg. 1.134. 

14 Cf. Georg. 2.16. 



46 SAINT AMBROSE 

upon them, nor look for refreshment from the berries of the 
woods, 15 nor pluck their food from thorns, but, taking joy in 
their prosperous labors and even marveling at their harvest 
themselves, they have sated their hunger with the full enjoy- 
ment of their wishes. 10 The earth gave us her fruit with 
interest. 

Who, then, is such a stranger to men's affairs as to be 
astonished at the alternation of the seasons of the year? Yet 
we know that last year several provinces had an abundance 
of produce. What shall I say of the Gauls who were richer 
than usual? They sold the grain of Pannonia which they did 
not sow, and Rhaetia Sccunda incurred hostility owing ^to 
her fertility, for she who was ordinarily safe in her scarcity 
made herself an enemy by her fertility. The fruits of autumn 
fed Liguria and the Venetias. Last year had no drought 
because of sacrilege; in fact, it flourished with the fruits of 
faith. Let them try to deny that the vineyards abounded with 
immense produce. We have received a harvest with interest 
and we also possess the benefit of a more abundant vintage. 

The last and most important point remains, O Emperors, 
whether you ought to reinstate those helps which have 
profited you, for our opponent says: c Let them defend you 
and be worshiped by us F This, most faithful Princes, is what 
we cannot tolerate, that they taunt us saying that they 
supplicate their gods in your name and without your com- 
mand commit a great sacrilege. For they interpret your 
suppression of feelings as consent. Let them have their 
guardians to themselves; let these, if they can, protect their 
devotees. For, if they cannot help those who worship them, 
how can they help you who do not worship them? 

But, he says, we must keep the rites of our ancestors. 
What of the fact that everything has made progress later to 

15 CL Atn. 3.650. 

16 Cf, Georg, UOS. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 47 

a better condition? The world itself, which at first was 
composed of elements in a void, in a soft mass, hardened or 
was clouded with the confusion of a shapeless piece of work, 
did it not later receive the forms of things by which it 
appears beautiful when the distinction between sky, sea, and 
earth became set? The lands shaking off their misty shadows 
wondered at the sun. The day does not shine at first, but as 
time proceeds it is bright with an increase of light and grows 
warm with an increase of heat. 17 

The moon herself, by which the appearance of the Church 
is mirrored in the sayings of the Prophets, when first rising 
waxes to her monthly age, but is hidden in night's shadows. 
Gradually filling up her horns, 18 finishing them in the region 
of the sun, she glows with the brightness of clear shining. 

Formerly, the earth did not know how to be worked for 
her fruits. Later, when the careful farmer began to rule the 
fields and to clothe the shapeless soil with vines, she put 
away her wild dispositions, being softened by domestic 
cultivation. 19 

The first part of the year itself, stripped of growing things 
which have tinged our fields with a likeness to itself, springlike 
with flowers which will fall, grows up later on to full fruits. 

We, too, the uninstructed ages, have an infancy of reason- 
ing, but, changing over the years, we lay aside the rudiments 
of our faculties. 

Let me say that all things should have remained in their 
first beginnings; the earth shrouded in darkness now displeases 
us because it has been illumined by the rays of the sun. And 
how much more pleasing is it for the shadows of the mind 
to have vanished than those of the body, and for the ray of 
faith to have shone rather than that of the sun. So, then, the 

17 Cf. Eel. 6.31. 
IB Cf. Aen, 3.645. 
19 Cf. Oeorg. 1.99. 



48 SAINT AMBROSE 

primeval age of the world has changed just as the age of all 
things and in the same way the venerable old age of hoary 
faith may change. Let those whom this disturbs find fault 
with the harvest for its abundance in the late season; let 
them find fault with the vintage for coming at the fall of the 
year; let them find fault with the olive for being the last of 
fruits. 

So, then, our harvest is the faith of souls; the grace of the 
Church is the vintage of merits which has flourished in the 
saints since the beginning of the world, but in the last age it 
has spread among the nations in order that all may know 
that the faith of Christ has not crept upon unlettered minds 
(for there is no crown of victory without an adversary), but, 
the opinion having been rejected which prevailed before, 
that which was true has rightly been preferred. 

If the old ceremonies gave pleasure, why did Rome also 
take up foreign ones? I will make no mention of the ground 
hidden by costly buildings and the shepherds 5 huts glittering 
with ill-suited gold. Why? In order that I may refer to the 
very matter of which they complain. Why have they eagerly 
taken statues from captured cities, and conquered gods, and 
foreign rites of alien superstition? Whence comes the pre- 
cedent for Cybele to wash her chariot in the stream of the 
counterfeiting Alma? Whence come the Phrygian seers and 
the deities of unjust Carthage ever hateful to the Romans? 
Whence is she whom the Africans worship as Coelestis, the 
Persians as Mithra, 20 and most people as Venus, according* 
to a diversity of names, but not a variety of deity? They 
believed that Victory was a goddess, yet it is a gift, not a 
power; it is granted and it does not rule; it is the result of the 
legions, not of the power of religion. Is that goddess great 

20 Ambrose wrongly makes Mithra a goddess, not a god; cf. McGuire, 
op. cit. 308. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 49 

whom a number of soldiers claim or the outcome of battle 
gives? 

They ask to have her altar erected in the Senate House of 
the city of Rome, the very place where most of those who 
meet are Christians. There are altars in every temple and an 
altar even in the Temple of Victories. Since they take pleasure 
in numbers, they offer their sacrifices everywhere. Is it not 
an insult to the faith to insist upon a sacrifice on this one 
altar? Must we tolerate a heathen offering of sacrifice in the 
presence of a Christian? Let them imbibe, he says, although 
they are unwilling, let them imbibe the smoke with their eyes, 
the music with their ears, the cinders with their throats, the 
incense with their nostrils. And let the dust raised from our 
hearths cover their faces although they detest it. Are not 
the baths and colonnades and streets filled with enough 
statues for them? Will there not be a common privilege in 
that common meeting place? The dutiful portion of the 
Senate will be bound by the voices of those who call upon 
the gods, by the oaths of those who swear by them. If they 
refuse, they will appear to utter a lie; if they consent, to 
acknowledge what is sacrilegious. 

Where, he says, shall we swear fealty to our laws and 
decrees? Does your mind which is contained in the laws 
gain assent and bind to faithfulness by the rites of heathens? 
Not only is the faith of those present attacked but also of those 
absent, and, what is more, O Emperors, your faith is attacked, 
for you compel if you command. Constantius of august 
memory, although he had not yet been admitted to the 
sacred mysteries, felt he would be polluted if he saw the altar. 
He ordered it to be removed; he did not order it to be 
replaced. That removal has the authority of an act; the 
replacing of it has not the authority of a command. 

Let no one flatter himself over his absence. He is more 
present when he joins himself to the thoughts of others than 



50 SAINT AMBROSE 

if he gives assent before their eyes. It is more important to be 
drawn together by the mind than to be united with the body. 
The Senate has you as its presidents to convene its assembly. 
It meets in your behalf; it gives its conscience to you, not to 
the gods of the heathens. It prefers you to its children, but 
not to its faith. This is the affection you should seek; this is a 
love greater than power, provided the faith which preserves 
the power be safe, 

Perhaps it may cause concern to some that, if this be so, 
a most faithful emperor has been forsaken, as if the reward 
of merits were to be thought of in terms of the passing value 
of those present. What wise man does not know that human 
affairs have been arranged in a kind of round and circuit, 
that they do not enjoy the same success, but that their state 
varies and they undergo changes? 

Whom have the Roman temples sent forth more prosperous 
than Gnaeus Pompey? Yet, when he had circled the earth 
with three triumphs, after suffering defeat in battle, a fugitive 
from war, and an exile within the boundaries of his own 
empire, he fell by the hand of a eunuch of Ganopus. 

What king have the lands of all the East produced more 
noble than Cyrus of the Persians? He, too, after conquering 
extremely powerful princes who opposed him, and keeping 
the conquered as prisoners, was overthrown and perished by 
the weapons of a woman. And that king who had treated 
even the vanquished with honor had his head cut off and 
placed in a vessel full of blood, while he was bidden to be 
sated with the plaything of a woman's power. The mode of 
his own life was not repaid with similar conduct on the part 
of others, but far otherwise. 

And whom do we find more devoted to sacrifice than 
Hamilcar, the leader of the Carthaginians? Although all 
during the battle he stood between the fighting ranks and 
offered sacrifice, when he saw that his side was conquered he 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 5 1 

threw himself Into the very fires which he was feeding, so 
that he might extinguish with his own body the fires which 
he knew were of no avail. 

What shall I say of Julian? When he foolishly trusted the 
responses of the soothsayers, he destroyed his own means of 
retreat. Therefore, in similar cases there is not a similar 
offense, for our promises have not deceived anyone. 

I have answered those who provoked me as though I had 
not been provoked, for my object was to refute the appeal, 
not to expose superstition. But let their very appeal, O 
Emperor, make you more cautious. After saying that of 
former princes, the earlier ones practiced the cult of their 
fathers, and the later ones did not abolish them, it was 
claimed in addition that if the religious practice of older 
princes did not set a pattern, the act of overlooking them on 
the part of the later ones did. This showed plainly what you 
owe to your faith, that you should not follow the pattern of 
heathen rites, and to your affection, that you should not set 
aside the decrees of your brother. If in their own behalf only 
they have praised the permission of those princes who, 
although they were Christians, did not abolish the heathen 
decrees, how much more ought you to defer to your brotherly 
affection, so that you who must overlook some things, even 
though you do not approve them, should not abrogate your 
brother's decrees; you should maintain what you judge to be 
in agreement with your own faith and the bond of brother- 
hood. 



52 SAINT AMBROSE 

9. To the most dement Emperor and most blessed Valentinian 
Augustus, Ambrose, bishop (February, 386) 

Alleging that he was acting at your command, the tribune 
and notary Dalmatius came to me and asked that I choose 
judges just as Auxentius has done. Yet he has not indicated 
the names of those who have been demanded. But he adds 
that there will be a discussion in the consistory, and the 
judgment of your Piety will be the deciding factor. 

To this I am making, as I think, a suitable response. No 
one should find that I am being insolent when I assert that 
your father of august memory not only gave his answer by 
word of mouth, but sanctioned by law this truth: In a 
matter of faith or of any Church regulation the decision 
should be given by him who is neither unsuitcd to the task 
nor disqualified by law. These are the words of his decree; 
in other words, he wished priests to make judgments regarding 
priests. In fact, if a bishop were accused of any charge and 
the case of his character needed to be examined, he wished 
these matters to belong to the judgment of bishops. 

Who, then, has given your Clemency an insolent answer? 
One who wishes you to be like your father, or one who wishes 
you to be unlike him? Perhaps little importance is attached 
by some persons to the opinion of that great emperor, 
although his faith was proved by his firm confession and his 
wisdom was declared by his development of a better common- 
wealth. 

O most clement Emperor, when have you heard the laity 
judge a bishop in a matter of faith? Are we so bent down 
with flattery as to forget our priestly privileges and think 
that we should entrust to others that which God has given to 
us? If a bishop has to be instructed by a layman, what next? 
If so, the laity will dispute and the bishop will listen ; and the 
bishop will learn from the laity! But if we examine the 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 53 

context of holy Scripture or of times past, who will deny 
that in a matter of faith, in a matter, I say, of faith, bishops 
usually judge Christian emperors; not emperors, bishops. 

By God's favor you will reach a ripe old age, and then you 
will realize what kind of a bishop subjects his priestly power 
to the laity. By God's favor your father, a man of ripe old 
age, said: 'It does not belong to me to judge between 
bishops'; 1 your Clemency now says: C I must be the judge.' 
He, although baptized, thought he was unfit for the burden 
of such a judgment; your Clemency, who must still earn the 
sacrament of baptism, takes to yourself a judgment concerning 
faith, although you are unacquainted with the sacraments of 
that faith. 

We can well imagine what sort of judges he [Auxentius] 
will choose, for he fears to reveal their names. Of course, 
let them come to the church, if there are any to come. Let 
them listen to the people, not so that each may sit in 
judgment, but that each may have proof of his disposition 
and choose whom he will follow. The matter concerns the 
bishop of that church; if the people decide after hearing him 
that he argues a better case, let them follow the faith he 
teaches. I shall not be jealous. 

I will not mention the fact that the people have already 
passed judgment. I am silent about their demand from the 
father of your Clemency for the one whom they have. 2 I 
am silent about the promise of the father of your Piety that 
there would be peace if the one chosen would assume the 
bishopric. I have kept faith in these promises. 

If he boasts of the approval of some foreigners, let him 
be bishop there where there are people who think that he 

1 Valentinian, who began his reign in 364, made a practice of not 
interfering with the bishops in matters of faith. 

2 Ambrose had been promised that he would not be harassed by the 
Arians if he accepted the bishopric of Milan. He certainly had been 
unwilling to become a bishop. Cf. Paulinus, Vita Ambrosii 3.7-9. 



54 SAINT AMBROSE 

should be given the name of bishop. But I neither recognize 
him as a bishop nor know whence he comes. 

When have we ever decided a matter on which you have 
declared your judgment? Nay, have you not even promulgated 
laws and not allowed anyone freedom of judgment? When 
you made such a provision for others, you also made it for 
yourself. An emperor passes laws which he first of all keeps. 
Do you want me to try to see whether those who have been 
chosen judges will begin to go contrary to your opinion, or 
at least excuse themselves on the grounds that they cannot 
act against so severe and rigid a law of the emperor? 

This, then, is the action of an insolent individual, not 
of a well-meaning bishop. See, O Emperor, you are rescinding 
your own law in part. Would that you did so, not in part, 
but entirely, for I would not want your law to be above the 
law of God. God's law teaches us what we are to follow; 
man's laws cannot teach us this. These alter the conduct of 
the timid; they are unable to inspire confidence. 

What man will there be who reads that at one moment it 
has been decreed that one who opposes the emperor should 
be struck with the sword, and whoever does not hand over 
the temple of God is straightway slain; what man, I say, 
either singly or with a few could say to the emperor: Tour 
law does not meet my approval'? If priests are not allowed 
this, are the laity permitted? And will he be the judge in a 
matter of faith who either hopes for favor or fears to give 
offence? 

Shall I agree to choose laymen as judges, who, if they 
maintain the truth with faith, will be proscribed or killed, 
because a law passed about faith has so decreed? Shall I 
expose these men either to the denial of truth or to punish- 
ment? 

Ambrose is not worth so much that he would throw away 
his priestly office for his own sake. The life of one man is not 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 55 

worth the dignity of all priests on whose advice I made these 
statements, since they suggested that we would perhaps 
surrender the triumph of Christ to some pagan or Jew, 
chosen by Auxentius, if we gave them judgment regarding 
Christ. What else do they rejoice to hear but the harm being 
done to Christ? What else can please them except that (God 
forbid ! ) Christ's divinity is being denied? Plainly, they agree 
completely with the Arians, who say that Christ is a creature, 
for heathens and Jews readily admit this. 

This decree was made at the Synod of Ariminium and I 
rightfully despise that council, for I follow the rule of the 
Council of Nicaea from which neither death nor the sword 
can separate me. This is the creed which the parent of your 
Clemency, Theodosius most blessed emperor, follows and 
approves. This creed is held by the Gauls, it is held by the 
Spaniards, who keep it with pious profession of the Holy Spirit. 

If there must be discussion, I have learned from my 
predecessor to have the discussion in church. If there has to 
be a conference about the faith, it should be a conference of 
bishops, as was done under Constantine, prince of august 
memory, who promulgated no laws until he had given free 
judgment to the bishops. This was also done under Con- 
stantius, emperor of august memory, heir of his father's 
dignity. Yet, what began well is ending otherwise. The bishops 
had subscribed at first to a definite creed. Then, when certain 
persons within the palace wished to pass judgment on the 
faith, they managed to alter the judgments of the bishops by 
surreptitious methods. The bishops at once called for resolute 
opinions. And, certainly, the greater number at Ariminium 
approved the creed of the Council of Nicaea and condemned 
the Arian decrees. 

If Auxentius appeals to a synod to dispute the faith (please 
God it may not be necessary for so many bishops to be 
wearied on account of one man, for, even if he were an 



56 SAINT AMBROSE 

angel from heaven, he must not be esteemed above the 
peace of the Church), when I shall hear that the synod is 
gathering, I myself will not be missing. Pass the law if you 
want a struggle! 

I would have come, O Emperor, to your Clemency's 
consistory to make these remarks in person if either the 
bishops or people had permitted me, but they said rather 
that discussions of the faith should be held in church in the 
presence of the people. 

Would, O Emperor, that you had not sentenced me to go 
wherever I wished! I went out daily; no one guarded me. 
You should have dispatched me where you wished, me who 
offered myself for anything. Now I am told by the bishops: 
It makes little difference whether you willingly leave the 
altar of Christ or hand it over, for, when you leave it, you 
will be handing it over. 

Would that it were clearly evident to me that the Church 
would not be handed over to the Arians! I would then 
willingly offer myself to the wishes of your Piety. But, if I 
am the only one guilty of making a disturbance, why is there 
the decree to invade all the other churches? Would that 
there were the assurance that no one would harm the 
churches! I choose that you pass on me whatever sentence 
you wish. 

Wherefore, O Emperor, receive with dignity my reason 
for being unable to come to the consistory. I have not learned 
to take rny place in a consistory except to act in your behalf , 3 
and I am unable to dispute in the palace, neither seeking 
nor knowing the secrets of the palace. 

I, Ambrose, the bishop, offer this notice to the most clement 
emperor and most blessed Augustus Valentinian. ' 

3 Ambrose had gone twice to the Consistory of Maximus and bore many 
affronts while there, first in the winter of 383-381 when he pleaded 
for peace in behalf of the young Valentinian, and later at the begin- 
ning of 385 when he begged that the body of Oratian be returned tor 
burial at Milan. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 57 

10. Ambrose to Emperor Valentinian (386) 

You have had such confidence in my recent embassy that 
no report of it was demanded of me. It was sufficiently 
clear from my having stayed some days in Gaul that I 
did not accept the terms favorable to Maximus 1 or agree 
with those which favored his will rather than peace. More- 
over, you would never have sent me on a second embassy 
unless you had approved the first. But, inasmuch as I was 
forced to the necessity of contesting with him on my arrival, 
I have determined to give an account of my embassy in this 
letter so that no one's report will confuse the false with the 
true before, on my return, I make a clear and trustworthy 
account of the truth. 

The day after I arrived at Trier I went to the palace. 
The grand chamberlain Gallicanus, a royal eunuch, 2 came 
out to me. I asked the privilege of entering; he asked if I 
had an imperial order from your Clemency. I answered that 
I did. He retorted that I could be interviewed only in the 
consistory. I replied that this was not customary for one of 
episcopal rank and, in fact, that there were certain matters 
of which I had to speak in earnest with the prince. In short, 
he went and consulted him, but maintained that the condi- 
tions would have to hold, so that it became clear that even 
his first remarks had been prompted by the other's wishes. I 
remarked that it was not in keeping with my office, but that 
I would not fail the embassy entrusted to me. I was happy to 
be humbled, especially on your behalf and in the performance 
of a duty which involved the affection you bear your brother. 

As soon as he was seated in the consistory, I entered; he 
arose to give me the kiss of greeting; I was standing with the 

1 Maximus was offering peace, but only on the condition that Val- 
entinian himself come to Trier. 

2 praepositus cubiculi. 



58 SAINT AMBROSE 

members of the consistory. Some began urging me to step 
forward; he began summoning me. I said: 'Why would you 
greet with a kiss one whom you do not know? If you knew 
me you would not see me here.' 'Bishop/ he said, 'you are 
greatly upset.' 'Not by the insult/ I answered, 'but by the 
embarrassment of standing in a place where I do not belong.' 
'You came into the consistory, 5 he said, 'on your first 
embassy.' That was not my fault,' I said, 'but the fault of 
the one who summoned me; I merely came in answer to the 
summons.' c Why did you come? 5 he asked. 'Because,' I 
replied, c at that time I was asking for peace for one who 
was weaker than you, but I do so now for one who is your 
equal.' 'Equal by whose kindness?' he asked. "That of 
almighty God,' said I, ; for He preserved for Valentinian the 
kingdom He had given him. J 

At length he broke forth, saying: 'You and that Bauton 
have tricked me. He wanted to get the power for himself 
under the figurehead of a child, and he sent barbarians 
against me ! As if I do not have just as many thousands of 
barbarians in my service and in my pay whom I can call 
upon. Had I not been restrained from doing so at your 
coming, who would have been able to withstand me or my 
forces?' 

To this I replied gently: 6 You need not be angry; there 
is no cause for alarm. Listen patiently to what I have to 
say to your remarks. You assert that while you trusted me 
I deceived you by coming and taking part in your first 
embassy a glorious accusation that I was safeguarding the 
emperor who was a mere child. Whom are we bishops to 
guard if not children? It is written: "Judge for the fatherless, 
and defend the widow, and free the one receiving harm*" 3 
And elsewhere: "Defenders of widows and fathers of or- 
phans/' 4 



3 Isa. 1.17. 

4 Ps. 67.6, 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 59 

'Still, I shall not censure Valentinian for services I rendered 
him. To say the truth, when did I prevent your legions from 
streaming into Italy? With what cliffs or battlelines or 
troops? Or did I block the Alps with my body? Would that I 
had the power! I would not have feared to lie in your way 
nor would I have dreaded your accusations. With what 
promises did I trick you into making peace? Did not Count 
Victor 5 come to meet me near Mayence in Gaul, he whom 
you had sent to make peace? In what way has Valentinian 
played you false, for he was asked for peace before he asked 
it. How has Bauton played you false by showing his loyalty 
to the emperor? Because he did not betray his lord? 

c How have I deceived you? On my arrival you said that 
Valentinian should come to you like a son to his father. I 
said it was unreasonable to expect a boy to cross the Alps 
with his widowed mother during the roughest part of winter. 
Moreover, was he to embark on the hazards of such a journey 
without his mother? I was sent on an embassy of peace, not 
to promise his arrival. It is clear that I could not promise 
what was not enjoined on me. At least I made no promise; 
therefore you said: "Let us wait and see what reply Victor 
will make." It is well known that he reached Milan while I 
was being detained [at Trier], and his request was refused. 
It was said that peace was the only issue, not the return of 
the emperor, who was not to be moved from there. I was 
present when Victor returned. How, then, did he influence 
Valentinian? The legates who were sent again and said that 
he would not come met me at Valence in Gaul. I found 
soldiers of both sides guarding the mountain heights. What 
armies of yours did I turn from you? What standards have 
I caused to leave Italy? What barbarians has Count Bauton 
brought against you? 

c lf Bauton, who came from across the Rhine, had done so, 

5 Son of Maxiraus. 



60 SAINT AMBROSE 

would it have been strange? You yourself were threatening 
the power and boundaries of Rome with barbarian troops 
and squadrons, with men to whom the food supplies of the 
provinces went as tribute. Note the difference between these 
threats of yours and the mildness of the august child 
Valentinian. You were intent upon coming into Italy sur- 
rounded by troops of barbarians. Valentinian made the Huns 
and Alans 6 who were approaching Gaul turn back to the 
lands of the Germans. What harm if Bauton had set 
barbarians against barbarians? While you were employing 
Roman soldiers and he opposing those attacking him on either 
side, the Juthungi were laying waste the Raetias within the 
the very heart of the Roman Empire. For this reason he set 
the Huns against the Juthungi. Yet, because the Germans were 
already crushing and threatening Gaul with approaching 
ruin, he was forced to abandon his triumphs lest you have 
ground for fear. Compare your deeds and his. You made the 
Raetias subject to attack; Valentinian has bought peace for 
you with his own money. 

c Look at the man on your right. 7 Valentinian sent him 
back to you in honor, although he had the opportunity of 
avenging a personal wrong. He had him within his own 
country at the very moment when his brother's death was 
announced, and he restrained his anger. He did not treat in 
the same manner one who is of different dignity but of the 
same relationship with you. Compare your , conduct with 
his. You be the judge. He gave you back your brother alive; 
give him back his, even though dead. How can you refuse 
him his brother's remains when he did not refuse those 
forces that were used against him? 

6 The Aicmanni, a tribe of Juthungi, were at Maximus' instigation 
raiding Raetia. To get rid of them, Count Bautou invited Huns and 
Alans to raid the territory of the Alemanni. 

7 Marceilinus, the brother of Maximus, who was sent back to Trier 
with Ambrose. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 6 1 

You say you fear to arouse the sorrow of the soldiers 
when the remains are returned. This is your excuse. Having 
abandoned him alive, will they now defend him when he is 
dead? Why fear one who is dead, whom you slew, although 
you could have saved him? I killed my enemy, you say. He 
is not your enemy, but you are his. He no longer puts up a 
defense, but consider why. If someone began plotting here 
today to rob you of your lands, would you say, I ask, that 
you were his enemy or he yours? If I am not mistaken, the 
usurper brings war; the emperor protects his rights. Then 
why refuse to part with the remains of one you should not 
have slain? Let Emperor Valentinian have his brother's 
remains as a pledge of your peace. And how can you keep 
alleging that you did not give the order to slay him if you 
do not allow him to be entombed? Will people be able to 
believe you did not grudge him life, when you grudge him 
burial? 

'But to get back to myself. I hear that you are charging 
that the people who were with Emperor Valentinian went 
over to Emperor Theodosius. What did you expect would 
happen when you demanded that refugees be punished and 
captives slain, while Theodosius enriched them with favors 
and granted them honors?' 'Whom did I put to death?' he 
asked. 'Vallio,' I answered. 'What a man, and warrior, 
besides! Was it a just cause for his murder that he was 
faithful to his emperor?' 'I did not order him to be killed,' 
he said. 'We heard,' said I, 'that such orders were given. 5 
'But,' said he, 'if he had not destroyed himself, I did order 
that he be dispatched to Chalons and there burned alive.' 
'True,' said I, 'this is the reason you are thought to have 
killed him. Who would expect to be spared when such a 
vigorous warrior, so loyal a soldier, so useful a count, had 
thus been slain?' I then' departed so that he might say he 
would consider the matter. 



62 SAINT AMBROSE 

Later, when he observed that I stayed aloof from the 
bishops who were in his service and who were asking that 
certain persons, heretics, should be put to death, he became 
very angry and ordered me to leave at once. I went, although 
several thought I would not escape his ambushes. I was 
overwhelmed with sorrow finding that the old bishop, 
Hyginus, though he had but the last breath of life left in 
him, was being sent into exile. When I approached some of 
his men and begged them not to allow him to be driven 
forth without clothing, without a bed to lie on, I was myself 
driven out. 

This is the account of my embassy. Farewell, O Emperor, 
and be on your guard against a man who is cloaking war 
under the mask of peace. 



1L To the most dement Emperor Eugenius, Ambrose, bishop 
(Summer., 393) 

My reason for leaving [Milan] 1 was the fear of the Lord 
to whom I direct all my acts, as far as possible, never turning 
my mind from Him nor considering any man's favor of 
more worth than the grace of Christ. By preferring God to 
everyone else I harm no one, and trusting in Him I have no 
fear of telling your majesties, the emperors, what I feel with 
my own conviction. Thus I shall not refrain from saying to 
you, most clement Emperor, what I have never refrained 
from saying to other emperors. And in order to preserve the 
order of events I shall review one by one the facts which 
concern the present difficulty. 

1 Ambrose left Milan and went to Bologna, thence to Fieiun, and 
finally to Florence. Cf. fit. 27, where a portion of this letter is 
quoted by Paulinus. The letter is in effect an implicit notice of 
excommunication served to Eugenius for his donations to the upkeep 
of pagan tempi es. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 63 

The most excellent Symmachus, when prefect of the city, 2 
appealed to Emperor Valentinian the younger, of august 
memory, begging that he would command the restoration to 
the temples of what had been removed, for he fulfilled his 
obligations in accordance with his own wish and religious 
conviction. It was also fitting that I, as bishop, should know 
my duties. I presented two petitions 3 to the emperors in 
which I declared that a Christian could not contribute to 
the upkeep of sacrifices; that I had not proposed that they 
be removed; but that I did now propose they should not be 
decreed ; and, finally, that he would seem to be giving rather 
than restoring contributions to the images. What he had 
not withdrawn he could not be said to be restoring; he 
seemed rather to be willingly donating money for the cost of 
superstition. Lastly, if he had done so, he either must not 
come to the church, or, if he should come, he would 
find no priest or one withstanding him in the church. 
Nor could he plead the excuse that he was only a catechumen, 
since even catechumens are not allowed to contribute to the 
upkeep of idols. 

My petitions were read in the consistory in the presence of 
Count Bauton, a man of the highest military rank, and of 
Rumoridus, of the same dignity and devoted from early 
boyhood to the heathen religion". Valentinian then listened 
to my suggestion and did only what the practice of our faith 
demanded. The counts acquiesced to their lord. 4 

Later, I openly addressed the most clement Emperor 
Theodosius, 5 and did not hesitate to speak to him face to face. 
And when he received word of the same sort from the Senate, 
although it was not the whole Senate that made the demand, 

2 In 384. 

3 See the two letters to Valentinian, above. 

4 Wytzes' emendation of a troublesome passage: acquieverunt comites 
domino suo. 

5 In 390. 



64 SAINT AMBROSE 

he at length gave approval to my suggestion. Then, for 
some days I did not go near him, nor did he take it amiss, 
because I was acting not for my own advantage but for his 
profit and that of my own soul; C I was not ashamed to speak 
in the presence of the king.' 6 

Again an embassy was sent by the Senate to Emperor 
Valentinian, of august memory, when he was in Gaul, 7 but 
they could extort nothing from him. I was absent at the time 
and had not written anything to him. 

But, when your Clemency assumed the government of the 
Empire, 8 these donations were found to have been made to 
distinguished citizens of the heathen religion. Perhaps, O 
august Emperor, it may be said that you yourself did not make 
the donations to the temples, but merely gave benefits to men 
who deserved well of you. But the fear of God, you know, 
ought to make us act firmly as do priests in the cause of 
liberty, and as those do who serve in your armies or hold 
rank among the provincials. As emperor, you asked the 
envoys to make restitution to the temples, but you did not. 
Others also made these demands and you withstood them. 
Yet, later, you decided to bestow gratuities on the petitioners 
themselves. 

The imperial power is great, but consider, O Emperor, 
how great God is. He sees the hearts of all; He probes their 
inmost conscience; He knows all things before they come to 
pass; He knows the innermost secrets of your heart, 9 You do 
not allow yourself to be deceived; do you expect to hide 
anything from God? Has this thought not occurred to you? 
Although they persisted in their requests, was it not your 
duty, O Emperor, out of reverence for the most high, true, 

6 Ps. 118.46. 

7 In 391, following his and Theodosius" joint order, forbidding pagan 
sacrifices and visits to pagan temples. 

8 In August, 392. 

9 Cf. Acts 1.24; Dan. 13.42. 



LETTERS TO EMPERORS 65 

and living God, to oppose them still more persistently and 
to refuse what was harmful to the holy law? 

Who grudges your giving to others what you choose? We 
do not pry into your benefactions, nor are we jealous of the 
privileges of others. But we are the interpreters of the faith. 
How will you offer your gifts to Christ? Few will respect 
your actions; all will respect your wishes. Whatever they did 
will be to your credit; what they did not do will be to theirs. 
You are indeed the emperor, but you must all the more 
submit to God. Otherwise, how will Christ's priests distribute 
your gifts? 

There was question of this kind in former times, and then 
persecution itself was overcome by the faith of the patriarchs 
and paganism gave way. When that game, occurring every 
fifth year, was held at Tyre and the wicked king of Antioch 
had come to see it, Jason appointed and sent messengers 
from Jerusalem to bring 300 didrachmas of silver and give 
them to the sacrifice of Hercules. 10 The patriarchs would 
not give the money to the pagans, but, sending trusted men, 
they asked that it not be assigned to the sacrifice of the gods, 
for it was not needed, but be deputed to other expenses. 
And it was decided that, because Jason had stipulated that 
the money be sent for the sacrifice of Hercules, it must be 
used for that purpose. Yet, when those who brought it 
pleaded in opposition, in their zeal and devotion insisting 
that it should not be used for the sacrifice, but for other 
necessities, the money was given over to the building of 
galleys. Although they sent the money under force, they did 
not use it for the sacrifice but for other public expenses. 

Undoubtedly, those who brought the money might have 
maintained silence, but they broke their trust knowing to 
what their action was leading. So they sent God-fearing men 
to use their effort to have it employed, not for the temple, 

10 Cf. 2 Mach. 41.18-20. 



66 SAINT AMBROSE 

but for the building of galleys. They entrusted their money 
to men who would plead the cause of divine law, and He 
who clears the conscience was made judge of the affair. If 
those who were under foreign power took such precautions, 
there is no doubt concerning what you, O Emperor, should 
have done. Since no one constrained you, nor had you in 
his power, you ought certainly to have consulted the advice 
of a bishop. 

At least, when I withstood you, although I alone withstood 
you, I was not the only one to wish or advise this course of 
action. Being bound by my words before God and men, I 
knew I could not, must not, consult anyone but myself, for 
I could not reasonably trust you. For a long time I stifled 
and concealed my distress and determined to give no hint to 
anyone, but now I may no longer pretend, nor am I at 
liberty to be silent. This is why at the beginning of your reign 
I made no reply to your letters, foreseeing what would take 
place. Afterwards, when you found I was not writing and 
you demanded a reply, I said: The reason is that I think 
they will get it from him by force.' 

Yet, when a just occasion for exercising my duty arose, I 
wrote and petitioned for those who were worried on their 
own account to show that in the cause of God I have a just 
fear, and I do not value flattery more than my own soul 
And in matters where it is fitting to petition you I show a 
just deference to your authority, as it is written: 'Honor to 
whom honor is due; tribute to whom tribute/ 11 Since I am 
deeply respectful of a private individual, why should I not 
be so of the emperor? Just as you wish to be held in respect, 
allow us to respect Him from whom you would like to prove 
that your authority is derived. 



11 Rom, 13.7. 




LETTERS TO BISHOPS 



12. Ambrose,, bishop, to Brother Anysius 1 (383) 

HAVE BEEN quite sure for a long time of what I have 
just now read; you were mine by your deeds even 
though I had not laid eyes on you. I grieve over 
that which has happened, but I rejoice over the later happy 
succession of events. I did not wish that to happen while 
I lived, yet I did hope after his death that only one of this 
merit might possibly be his successor. And so we have you, 
the disciple for a long time of Acholius of blessed memory, 
now his successor and the heir of his rank and of his grace. 
You have been given a great recompense, brother, and I 
rejoice on your account that there was not a moment's 
doubt regarding the successor of one so great. It is also a 
great burden, brother, to support the weight of so great a 
name, of so great esteem, of so great a scale. Men are looking 
for Acholius in you, and as he was held in affection by you, 
so in the performance of his ministry there is needed a 
replica of his virtue, of his learning, and the vigor of mind 
in so aged a body. 

1 The successor of Bishop Acholius. 

67 



68 SAINT AMBROSE 

I saw him, I say; and I owe It to him that I had this 
glimpse of him. I saw him in the body in such a way that I 
thought he was not of the body; I saw the image of him 
[Paul] who, not knowing whether in the body or out of the 
body, saw himself raised to paradise. 2 He used to travel 
everywhere on frequent trips to Constantinople, to Achaia, 
to Epirus, to Italy in such fashion that younger men could 
not keep up with him. Men of more sturdy physique yielded 
to him, for they knew that he was free from the hindrance 
of the body; he used his body only for a covering, not an 
instrument, surely a means of servitude, not of companionship. 
He had exerted such influence on his body as to crucify the 
world in it and himself to the world. 

Blessed was the Lord, and blessed was the youth of this 
man spent in the tabernacle of the God of Jacob, living in 
a monastery where, to his parents or relatives in search of 
him, he used to say: "Who are my brethren, and who is 
my mother?" 3 I do not know my father or mother or 
brethren, unless they are those who hear the Word and keep 
it.' Blessed also were his mature years when he was raised to 
the office of high priest, deemed worthy of an early recom- 
pense for virtue. He came like David to restore peace to the 
people; he came like the ship carrying with him pure gold, 
cedar woods, and precious stone, 4 and that dove 5 with rings 
of silver with which amid the lots he slept the sleep of peace 
and the repose of tranquility. 

Sleep is the workman of the saints according to what has 
been written: I sleep and my heart watches/ 6 and according 
to holy Jacob 7 who while asleep saw divine mysteries which 

2 Cf. 2 Cor. 12.2. 

3 Matt. 12.18. 

4 Cf. 2 Par. 9.21. 

5 Cf. Ps. 67.14. 

6 Cant. 5.2. 

7 Cf. Gen. 28.13. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 69 

he had not seen when he was awake a path in the heavens 
for the saints, leading from sky to earth, and the Lord looking 
down upon him and promising him the possession of that 
land. Asleep in this way for a short while, in his dream he 
asked and obtained what his descendants later acquired with 
great toil. The sleep of the saints is free from all pleasures of 
the body, from all disturbance of the mind; it brings calm 
to the mind and peace to the soul, so that, released, as it 
were, from the ties of the body, it raises itself aloft and clings 
to Christ. 

This sleep is the life of the saints such as blessed Acholius 
lived, whose old age also was blessed, for old age is truly 
venerable when it grows hoary not with grey hairs but with 
good deeds. This hoariness is revered, hoariness of soul, 
gleaming with shining thoughts and deeds. What truly is old 
age if it is not a spotless life 8 which is measured not by days 
or months, but by ages whose durability knows no end, whose 
longevity knows no weakness? The older it is, the stronger it 
is, and the longer he has lived that life, the more vigorously 
does he grow into the perfect man. 

May the Lord, therefore, set His approval upon you, his 
successor, not only in honor, but also in character, and may 
He see fit to establish you in great grace so that to you also 
the people may run and you may say of them: 'Who are 
those who fly about like clouds and like doves with their 
young? 59 Let them come, too, like the ships from Tharsis 10 
and bring in grain which the true Solomon gives, the twenty 
measures of wheat. Let them receive oil and the wisdom of 
Solomon, and let there be peace between you and your 
people, and may you guard well the covenant of peace. 

Farewell, brother, and love us, because we also love you. 

8 Ci Wisd. 4.8,9. 

9 Isa. 60.8. 

10 Cf. 2 Par. 9.21. 



70 SAINT AMBROSE 

13. Ambrose to Brother Candidianus 1 

There is in your language the utmost clarity, but it shines 
even more in your love for me; indeed, in your letters I 
behold the brilliance of your mind, dearly beloved and most 
blessed brother. May the Lord bless you, and give you His 
grace, for I see in your letters your good wishes more than 
my own excellence. What excellence of mine could compare 
with your language? 

Love us, brother, because we love you. 

14. Ambrose to Chromatius (c. 390 ) l 

Does God tell a lie? He does not; it is impossible for God 
to tell a lie. Is this an impossibility because of some weakness? 
Certainly not! How could He be the cause of all things if 
there were something which He could not cause? What, then, 
is impossible to Him? Not what is difficult for His power, 
but what is contrary to His nature. It is impossible, it is 
said, for Him to tell a lie. The impossibility comes, not from 
weakness, but from His power and greatness, for truth admits 
of no lie, nor God's power of the fault of inconstancy, for 
God is true, and every man is a liar. 5 " 

Truth, therefore, is always in Him; He remains reliable; 
He cannot change or deny Himself. For, if He says He is 
not true, He tells a lie, and to lie belongs not to power, but 
to weakness. Nor can He change Himself, because His 
nature admits of no weakness. This impossibility comes from 

I Undated. 



1 Intended as the first of a series of letters to Chromatius, Bishop of 
Aquileia, of which this is the only one extant. 

2 Rom. 3.4. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 7 1 

His fullness which cannot diminish or increase, not from 
weakness which is powerless in that which increases it. Hence 
we gather that this impossibility for God is a very powerful 
attribute. What is more powerful than not to know any 
weakness? 

Yet there is a weakness in God which is stronger than 
men, and a foolishness in God which is wiser than men. 3 
The one is the foolishness of the Cross, the other of His 
divinity. If, then, His weakness is power, how is His power 
weakness? Let us keep in mind that God does not deceive. 

There is no diviner in Israel, in accordance with the law 
of God. 1 How, then, does Balaam say he was prevented by 
the oracle of God from going to curse the people of Israel? 
Yet he went and an angel of the Lord met him who told 
him to go no farther and stood in the path of the ass which 
he was riding. Nonetheless, the angel himself did tell him to 
proceed and to speak only what was put in his mouth. If 
there was no soothsayer in Israel, whence came the oracle of 
God which disclosed the future to one who was a soothsayer? 
If he spoke as the mouthpiece of God, whence had he derived 
the privilege of divine inspiration? 

But do not be surprised that the diviner was inspired by 
the Lord what to say, since you read in the Gospel that it 
was granted the chief of the synagogue, one of Christ's 
persecutors, to prophesy that one man should die for the 
people. 5 In him was not the gift of prophecy, but the state- 
ment of a truth, so that even by the witness of enemies the 
truth might be declared and the treachery of unbelievers 
refuted even by the words of their own diviners. In fact, 
Abraham, a Chaldean, was brought to the faith to put to 

3 Cf. 1 Cor. 1.25. 

4 Cf. Deut. 18.10. 

5 Cf. John 11.50. 



72 SAINT AMBROSE 

silence the superstition of the Chaldeans. It is not, then, the 
merit of the one who confesses, but the mouthpiece of the 
one who calls, the grace of God, who makes the revelation. 

Was it not Balaam's guilt that he said one thing and 
planned another, whereas God demands a clean vessel, not 
one soiled with uncleanness? Balaam, therefore, was tried 
and was not found worthy, for he was full of guile and 
deceit. Moreover, when he inquired whether he should go to 
the vain people and was forbidden, he made an excuse to 
go. When other more honorable messengers came, asking 
him, he should have refused, but attracted by greater 
promises and more numerous gifts 6 he decided he should 
again inquire [of God] as if God would be influenced by 
money or gifts. 

He received a miser's answer, not that of one seeking the 
truth, so that he was mocked rather than given information. 
He set out; an angel met him in a narrow place, 7 and 
revealed himself to the ass, not to the diviner. He revealed 
himself to the one; he scorned the other. Then, that Balaam 
might recognize him for some little while, the angel opened 
his eyes. He saw and still did not trust the plain oracle, and, 
though he should have trusted his eyes, he gave doubtful 
and confusing answers. 

Then the Lord, being angry, said through the angel: 
4 "Go and speak what I shall command you," 8 that is, not 
what you wish, but what you are forced to say. You will 
furnish your tongue, as an empty instrument, for my words. 
It is I who speak, you only echo what you hear and do not 
understand. You will accomplish nothing by going, for you 
will return without a reward of money and without the 

6 Cf. Num. 22.19. 

7 Cf. Num. 22.22,23. 

8 Num. 22.35. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 73 

profit of grace. 5 His first words were: c How shall I curse 
him whom God hath not cursed?' 9 to show that the blessing 
of the Hebrew people depended not on his will but on the 
grace of God. 

'I shall see them,' he says, 'from the tops of the mountains, 10 
since I cannot with my vision embrace this people which will 
dwell apart, marking their boundaries not by their ownership 
of places, but by the indwelling of virtues, and by the 
perfection of their character which will make them live for 
everlasting ages. Which of the neighboring nations will be 
numbered with this one, for it far surpasses their fellowship? 
Who can understand the nature of its foundation, for we 
see that the bodies of its citizens are compounded and 
fashioned from human seeds, but their souls spring from 
higher, more marvelous seeds? 

* "Let my soul die with their souls," 11 die to this bodily 
life that among the souls of the just it may attain the grace 
of that eternal life.' Herein was revealed already the excellence 
of the heavenly sacrament and of the holy baptism by whose 
operation men die to original sin and the works of the unjust, 
that, being transformed in newness of life into fellowship with 
the just, they may rise again to the just man's way of life. 
And why is it strange that when they die to sin they live to 
God? 

When Balak heard this he was angry and said : C I brought 
you here to curse and you are uttering a blessing.' He 
answered: 'I suffer insult for what I know not, for I speak 
not my own words, I merely utter sounds like a tinkling 
cymbal. 512 When he was brought to a second and a third 
place, although he wished to utter a curse, he continued to 

9 Num. 23.8. 

10 Num. 23.9. 

11 Num. 23.10. 

12 Cf. 1 Cor. 13.1. 



74 SAINT AMBROSE 

bless: There is no labor in Jacob, no sorrow.' 13 The Lord 
protected him. Then he commanded seven altars and sac- 
rifices to be made ready. Surely, he should have gone his 
way, but his weak mind and changeable notions made him 
think he could alter God's will. Being in a trance, he kept 
desiring one thing and saying another. 

'How beautiful,' he said, 'are thy dwellings, O army of 
Hebrews! Thy tabernacles are like wooded valleys, as a 
park near rivers, and as cedars by the waterside. A man 
will go forth from Jacob and will take many nations, and his 
kingdom will be lifted on high; and on earth he will spread 
his kingdom over Egypt. They that bless him, shall be 
blessed, and they that curse him, shall be cursed." 14 What 
people does he mean except the people of Christ? God 
blesses that people into whose heart the Word of God come-; 
down even to the division of soul and of joints and of 
marrow. 15 Balaam would have had the grace of God in him 
if he had acted according to the interest and purpose of his 
heart. But, because a wicked mind is bound by its counsels, 
and the secrjts of the soul are betrayed by events, his mind 
was discovered by his later wicked deeds. 

Therefore he received a reward in keeping with his malice, 
for, when he realized that, being in a trance, he was unable 
to utter a curse, he told the king: 'Let my utterances be of 
things which God has commanded; hear now my counsel 
against the words of God. This is a just people;; it enjoys 
God's protection since it has not given itself to divining and 
augury, but to the eternal God alone, excelling others in 
faith. Yet sometimes even faithful minds fall prey to the 
enticements of the body and the blandishments of beauty. 
You have many women here, many of them are not un- 

13 Cf. Num. 23.21 (Septuagint) . 

14 Num. 24.5,6,9. 

15 Cf. Heb. 4,12. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 75 

adorned with beauty. Now the male sex is led astray and 
captivated by nothing more quickly than by a woman's 
beauty, particulary if by frequent conversation the love of 
their hearts is aroused, set afire as if by torches; but if it 
clings to the hope of enjoyment it keeps its feelings pent up. 
Let your women cast their fishhooks with words, let them 
be of easy access at first, let them roam about exposed to 
view, affable in speech, going everywhere about the camp. 
Let them draw these men so skillfully that they allow them 
no intercourse until they have first pledged their mutual love 
by participating in sacrilege. Thus will they be deprived of 
heaven's protection if by sacrilege they will depart from 
their Lord God.' 

In advising fornication and sacrilege, Balaam proved 
himself unjust ; even in the Apocalypse of John the Evangelist 
this is plainly written, where the Lord Jesus says to the 
Angel of the Church of Pergamum: 'Thou hast there some 
who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast 
a stumbling block before the children of Israel, that they 
might eat and commit fornication. So thou hast also some 
who hold the teaching of the Nicolaites/ 16 Hence comes the 
sacrilege of the Manichaeans and of Manasse, who mingle 
and unite sacrilege with impiety. 

God was not unjust, nor was His opinion changed, for He 
detected Balaam's mind and the secrets of his heart, and He 
tested him as a diviner, but He did not choose him as a 
prophet. Surely, he ought to have been converted by the 
grace of those great oracles and by the sublimity of the 
revelation, but his mind, full of wickedness, uttered words 
but did not attain faith, frustrating by its counsels what it had 
predicted. Then, because he could not gainsay the prophecy, 
he suggested fraudulent ideas which tempted but did not 
overcome the people of the Jews. By the righteousness of one 

16 Apoc, 2.14,15. 



76 SAINT AMBROSE 

priest all the advice of this corrupt man was undone/ 7 for 
it was much more wonderful that our many forefathers could 
be delivered through one man than deceived by one, 

I am sending your holy soul this little work in response 
to your wish that I make some compilations from the 
interpretations of earlier writers. I have presumed to write 
this letter in a friendly style, somewhat reminiscent of the 
manner of the patriarchs. Provided you approve their flavor, 
I shall not hesitate later on to send you others of this kind. 
I prefer to prate of heavenly matters with you, in an old 
man's fashion, which in Greek is called meditating. 'Isaac 
was gone forth into the field to meditate,' 18 seeing in Rebecca's 
coming the mystery of the future Church. Lest I give the 
impression of having lost my skill in writing I prefer, I 
say, this prating with you in the words of an old man 
instead of uttering in vehement style words unsuited to our 
interests or strength. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



15, Ambrose to Constantius (before Lent, 379) 

You have entered upon the office of bishop and, sitting at 
the helm of the Church, you are piloting the ship in the 
face of the waves. 1 Take firm hold of the rudder of faith so 
that the heavy storms of this world cannot disturb you. The 
sea is mighty and widespread, but do not fear, because 'He 
hath founded it upon the seas; and hath prepared it upon 
the rivers.' 2 Therefore, not without cause does the Church 

17 Num. 25.11. 

18 Gen. 24.65. 



1 Cf. Cicero Epist. ad /am. 9,15.3: sedebamus enirn in pupfri et davum 
tenebarnus. 

2 Ps. 23.2, 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 77 

Df the Lord, built upon the rock of the Apostles, remain 
unmoved amid the many storms of this world and, with her 
Foundation unshaken, stand firm against the assaults of the 
seething sea. 3 She is lashed by waves, she is not shattered, 
and, although the elements of this world often beat upon her 
with loud crashing sound, she has a place where she receives 
those in distress, the well-guarded harbor of salvation. 

Nevertheless, although she tosses on the sea, she rides on 
the floods; see that she rides no more upon those floods of 
which it is said: The floods have lifted up their voice.' 4 
There are rivers which flow from the belly of him who 
drinks from Christ and partakes of the Spirit of God. 5 
These rivers, therefore, when they redound with the grace of 
the Spirit, lift up their voice. There is also a stream which 
overflows upon its holy ones like a torrent. 6 Likewise, there 
is a stream of a river which gladdens the peaceful and 
tranquil soul. 7 Whoever receives of the fullness of this stream, 
like John the Evangelist, like Peter and Paul, lifts up his 
voice. Just as the Apostles with the harmony of their message 
spread the sound of their preaching of the Gospel to all the 
ends of the earth, so also does he begin to tell the good 
tidings of the Lord Jesus. Drink, then, from Christ so that 
your sound, too, may go out. 

The sea is holy Scripture which has within it profound 
meanings and the mysterious depths of the Prophets. Into 
this sea many rivers have entered. Delightful and clear are 
these streams; these fountains are cool, springing up into 
life everlasting; 8 there, too, are pleasant words, like 'honey- 

3 Cf. Matt. 16.18. 

4 Ps. 92.3. 

5 Cf. John 7.38. 

6 Cf. isa. 66.12. 

7 Cf. Ps. 45.5. 

8 Cf. John 4.14. 



78 SAINT AMBROSE 

comb/ 9 and courteous conversations which water souls with 
the sweetness of moral commands. The streams of holy 
Scripture are diverse; you know that which you should drink 
from first, second, and last. 

Store up the water of Christ, that which praises the Lord. 10 
Store up the water from many places, the water which the 
clouds of prophecy pour out. He who gathers water from 
the mountains and draws it to himself, or drinks from the 
fountains, he himself also sheds dew like the clouds. There- 
fore, fill the center of your mind so as to have your plot of 
land moistened and watered by fountains from the family 
estate. Accordingly, he who reads much and also understands 
is filled; he who has been filled sheds water upon others. 
So Scripture says: 'If the clouds be full, they will pour out 
rain upon the earth.' 11 

Therefore, let your sermons be flowing, let them be clear 
and lucid so that by suitable disputation you may pour 
sweetness into the ears of the people, and by the grace of 
your words may persuade the crowd to follow willingly where 
you lead. But if in the people, or in some persons, there is 
any stubbornness or any fault, let your sermons be such as 
to goad the listener, to sting the person with a guilty con- 
science. 'The words of the wise are as goads.' 12 Even the 
Lord Jesus goaded Saul when he was a persecutor. Consider 
how saltutary was the goad which made of a persecutor an 
apostle, saying: c lt is hard for thee to kick against the goad. n:j 

There are also sermons like milk which Paul gave to the 
Corinthians; 14 those who cannot eat strong food develop 
from infancy by drinking a natural milk. 

9 Cf. Prov. 17.24. 

10 C. Ps. 145.5. 

11 Cf. Eccle. 11.1 

12 Eccle. 12.11. 

13 Acts 9.5. 

H Cf. 1 Cor. 3.2. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 79 

Let your exhortations be full of meaning. Concerning this 
Solomon says: 15 The weapons of the intellect are the lips of 
the wise." And in another place: 'Thy lips have been bound 
for wisdom/ that is, let the revelation of your sermons shine 
forth, let your understanding be bright, and let your sermon 
by itself protect itself, as it were, with its own weapons, and 
let not any word of yours go out in vain and go forth without 
meaning. Speech is a bandage which ties up the wounds of 
souls, and if anyone rejects this, he shows his despair of his 
own salvation. 16 Likewise, with those who are vexed by a 
serious sore, use the oil of speech that you may soften their 
hardness of heart; apply a poultice; put on a bandage of 
salutary advice, so that you may never allow those who are 
astray or who are wavering regarding the faith or the 
observance of discipline to perish through loss of courage 
and a breakdown of activity. 

Warn the Lord's people, therefore, and beg them to 
abound in good works, to renounce vice, not to enkindle the 
fires of passion I shall not say on the Sabbath, but in every 
season. Let them not destroy their bodies; let there be no 
immorality and uncleanness in the servants of God, because 
we are the servants of the unspotted Son of God. 17 Let 
each one know himself and possess his vessel, 18 and when the 
soil of the body has been ploughed, let him wait for the fruit 
in due season, and let his land not bring forth thorns and 
thistles, 19 but let him, too, say: 'Our earth has yielded her 
fruit, 320 and in the once thickly wooded frailty of passion let 
there flourish ingrafted virtues. 

Teach and instruct them to do what is good, and let no 
one interrupt a laudable work whether he is being seen by 

15 Prov. 14.3; 15.5. 

16 Isa. 1.6. 

17 Cf. Eph. 5.3. 

18 Cf. 1 Thess. 4.4. 

19 Cf. Gen. 3.18. 

20 Ps. 84.13. 



80 SAINT AMBROSE 

many or is without a witness, for conscience is a trustworthy 
security for him. 

Let the people also shun evil deeds, even though they do 
not believe they can be found out. Although men are enclosed 
in the house, surrounded by darkness, without a witness, 
without an accomplice, they have the Judge of their deeds 
whom nothing deceives, to whom all deeds cry out. 21 Each 
one also has himself and his soul as a severe judge of himself, 
as an avenger of wickedness, a vindicator of crime. In fear 
and trembling Cain wandered over the earth 22 paying the 
penalty of the murder of his brother, so that for him death 
was a remedy, for it set free the wandering exile who at 
every moment had a dread of death. Let no one either alone 
or with another do anything base or wicked. And if anyone 
is alone, let him respect himself, rather than others, himself 
whom he ought especially to reverence. 

Let your people not desire many things, for the reason 
that a few things are many to them: poverty and riches are 
names which imply want and satiety. He is not rich who 
wants anything, nor poor who does not want. Let no one 
spurn a widow, or cheat an orphan, or defraud his neighbor. 
Woe to him who has a fortune amassed by deceit, and 
builds in blood 23 a city, in other words, his soul. For it is this 
[the soul] which is built like a city. 24 Greed does not build 
it, but sets it on fire and burns it. Do you wish to build your 
city well? 'Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than 
great treasures without fear.' 2 "* The riches of a man ought 
to work to the redemption of his soul, not to its destruction. 
Wealth is redemption if one uses it well; so, too, it is a 
snare if one does not know how to use it. 26 For what is a 

21 Cf. Gen. 4.10. 

22 Cf. Gen. 4.14. 

23 Cf, Hab. 2.6. 

24 Cf. Ps. 121,3. 

25 Prov. 15.16. 

26 Cf. Prov. 13.8. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 81 

man's money if not provision for his journey? A great amount 
is a burden; a little is useful. We are wayfarers in this life; 
many are walking along, but a man needs to make a good 
passage; the Lord Jesus is with him who makes a good 
passage. Thus we read: 'When thou passest through the 
waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers shall not cover 
thee, nor fire burn thy garments when thou shalt walk 
through.' 27 But, one who keeps a fire pent up in his body, 
the fire of lust, the fire of immoderate desire, does not pass 
through but burns the covering of his soul. 28 A good name 
is more excellent than money, and above heaps of silver is 
good favor. 29 Faith itself redounds to itself, sufficiently rich 
and more than rich in its possession. There is nothing which 
is not the possession of the wise man except what is contrary 
to virtue, and wherever he goes he finds all things to be his. 
The whole world is his possession, since he uses it all as his 
own. 

Why, therefore, is a brother cheated? Why is a hireling 
defrauded? The gain from the sale of a harlot is not great, 
he [the writer of Proverbs] says; 30 it is the gain of fleeting 
frailty. A harlot is not one's own possession, but a public 
possession; not woman alone is a harlot, but every wandering 
desire is a harlot. Every act of faithlessness, every lie, is a 
harlot, and not the one who prostitutes her body, but every 
soul which sells her hope, which seeks disgraceful profit and 
an unworthy reward. We, too, are hired men who work for 
a price and hope for the price of our labors from our Lord 
and God. If anyone wants to know how mercenary we are, 
let him hear the one who says : 'How many hired men in my 
father's house have bread in abundance, while I am perishing 
here with hunger!' And below: 'Make me as one of thy 

27 Isa. 43.2. 

28 Cf. Prov. 6.7. 

29 Cf. Prov. 22.1. 

30 Prov. 6.20. 



82 SAINT AMBROSE 

hired men/ 31 All are hired men, all are laborers. Let the 
man who is waiting for the fruit of his labor consider that 
he who defrauds another of his pay will himself be defrauded 
of his own. In lending he acts unwisely and will repay later 
with greater measure. Therefore, let one who does not wish 
to lose what endures forever, take not from another what is 
only for a time. 

Let no one speak deceitfully to his neighbor. A snare is on 
our lips, and often one is not set free by his words but is 
ensnared. 3 - The mouth of one speaking ill is a great pit, a 
steep precipice for the innocent, but steeper for one of ill- 
will. 33 An innocent man, though easily credulous, falls 
quickly, 34 but when he has fallen rises again. The slanderer 
is thrown headlong by his own acts, from which he will 
never emerge or escape. Therefore, let each one weight his 
words without fraud and deceit; C A deceitful balance is an 
abomination before the Lord.' 35 I do not mean that balance 
which weighs out another's pay (in trivial matters the flesh 
is deceitful). Before God that balance of words is detestable 
which simulates the weight of sober gravity while practicing 
at the same time cunning fraud. God condemns especially 
the man who deceives his neighbor with kind promises and 
overwhelms his debtor with treacherous injustice. He will 
have no gain from his clever skill. For, what does it profit 
a man if he gains the wealth of the whole world but defrauds 
his own soul of the payment of eternal life? 36 

Pious souls must consider another scale by which the deeds 
of individuals are weighed, in which, generally, sins are 
overbalanced toward judgment, or deeds well done are of 
more weight than sins. Alas for me if my sins are heavy and 

31 Luke 15.17,19. 

32 Cl Frov. 6.2. 
3$ Cf. Prov. 22.14. 

34 Cf. Frov. 14.15. 

35 Frov. ILL 

36 Cf. Matt, 16,26. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 83 

incline toward a decree of death by their mortal weight! 
More tolerable would it be if all the things manifest to the 
Lord came to pass, even before my judgment; good deeds 
cannot be concealed nor can those be hidden which are full of 
offense. 37 

How happy is the man who has been able to cut out the 
root of vices, avarice. Surely he will not dread this balance. 
Avarice generally dulls men's senses and corrupts their judg- 
ments, 38 so that they think piety a gain, and money, a soil 
of reward for sagacity. But great is the reward of piety and 
the gaining of sobriety; the possession of these virtues is 
sufficient. For, what do superfluous riches profit in this world 
when they do not assist our birth or impede our dying? We 
are born into this world naked, we leave it without a cent, 
we are buried without our inheritance. 

Each one will have the weight of his good deeds hung 
in the balance, and for a few moments of a good work or a 
degenerate deed the scale often inclines to this side or that. 
If evil inclines the scale, alas for me; if good, pardon is 
ready at hand. No one is free from sin, but, when good deeds 
prevail, the weight of sins is lessened; they are cast into the 
shadow and covered up. So, in the day of judgment, our 
works will either succor us or plunge us into the depths, like 
men weighted down with a millstone. Iniquity is heavy, 
supported, as it were, on a talent of lead; 39 avarice is hard 
to carry; so, too, all pride and ignoble fraud. Urge the 
people of the Lord to hope more in the Lord, therefore, to 
abound in the riches of simplicity, in which they may walk 
without a snare, without hindrance. 40 

The guilelessness of plain speech is also good; it is rich 
before God, even if it walks amid snares, for, not knowing 

37 Cf. I Tim. 5.24. 

38 Cf. 1 Tim. 6.10. 

39 Cf. Zach. 5.7. 

40 Cf. 2 Cor. 8.2. 



84 SAINT AMBROSE 

how to weave snares or bands for another, it Is not bound. 

It is also very important that you persuade them to know 
how to be humbled, to know the true character and nature of 
humility. Many have the appearance of humility, but they 
do not have the virtue. Many make a pretense of it on the 
outside, yet within they fight against it. They make a display 
of it for pretense, yet reject the truth; they say W to grace, 
for There is one who humbleth himself wickedly and his 
interior is full of deceit/ 41 Such a person is very far from 
humility. Humility does not exist except without pretense, 
without fraud. That is true which has a pious sincerity of 
soul. Great is its virtue. Finally, through the disobedience of 
one man death entered, 42 and through the obedience of our 
Lord Jesus Christ was wrought the redemption of all men. 

Saintly Joseph 43 knew how to be humble. When he was 
sold into slavery by his brothers and purchased by mer- 
chants, 44 bound in fetters, as Scripture says, 45 he learned 
the strength of humility, he scorned frailty. When he was 
bought in Egypt by an official of the royal palace a man in 
charge of the household although he knew his noble lineage 
and his descent from the sons of Abraham, Joseph did not 
become disgusted with his lowly condition, unworthy [as he 
was to perform] the duties of a servant. Rather, he showed 
himself diligent and faithful to his master's commands, know- 
ing by great prudence that it makes no difference in what 
condition of life one is found trustworthy, but that the pur- 
pose of a good man is to be approved in any condition, and, in 
particular, that character dignifies the position more than 
position the character. In fact, the lower the status, the 
more outstanding the virtue. He proved so earnest that his 



41 Eccli. 19.23. 

42 CL Rom. 5.19. 

43 Cf. Gen. 39.1-12. 

44 Cf. Gen. 37.28. 

45 Cf. Ps. 101.18. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 85 

masier entrusted to him his whole house and committed to 
him all his goods. 

Then the wife of his master cast her eyes upon him, 
captivated by his comeliness. We need not be concerned 
whether his age or beauty is coveted by her impure glances : 
provided these be artless, there is no crime in comeliness; 
provided enticement is not present, seemliness and charm of 
beauty are innocent. This woman, deeply aroused and mad- 
dened, accosts the young man, and driven on by lust, over- 
come by the sting of passion, admits her crime. But he 
disowns any wickedness, saying that it is not in keeping with 
the custom or the laws of the Hebrews for those to violate 
the stranger's bed who have the duty of protecting its purity; 
that the chaste spouse may be joined in marriage with chaste 
maidens, but they are not allowed marriage with a woman 
who does not make us of her legitimate marriage rights. 
Moreover, he is bound not to be overcome with wanton 
intemperance or to be ungrateful for his master's kindness, 
nor may he bring deadly injury upon one to whom he owes 
obedience. 

Was he ashamed to say that his owner was a despised 
person, and to admit that he himself was a slave? Nay, even 
when the woman strove to gain him, entreated him with fear 
of betrayal, or poured out passionate tears in order to win 
him by force, he was not drawn to consent to the crime 
through a sense of duty, nor compelled by fear, and he 
resisted her entreaties. He did not yield to her threats, 
preferring to have as his reward honor fraught with danger, 
a base remuneration for his chaste modesty. Again, beginning 
with greater inducements when she saw him inflexible and 
unmoved by her second attempt, wild with passion, her 
shamelessness furnishing strength, the woman went up to 
the young man, and, catching hold of his garment, dragged 
him to a couch, offering her embrace. And she would almost 



86 SAINT AMBROSE 

have succeeded In holding him, except that Joseph tore off 
the garment by which he was held, lest he tear off the cloak 
of humility, the garment of purity. 

He knew how to be humble, for he was humbled even to 
prison, and while he bore this outrage he preferred to submit 
to a false charge rather than to bring a true one. I say he 
knew how to be humbled for the sake of virtue. He was 
humbled in the manner of Him who was humbled unto 
death, even to the death of the Cross. 46 He was to conic to 
arouse this life of ours from sleep, and to show _ that our use 
of life, in which there are various sorts of vicissitudes, was a 
dream with nothing solid or firm therein, as in sleep we see 
a dream but do not see, hearing do not hear, eating are not 
filled, rejoicing are not made glad, running do not reach 
our goal. Vain are the hopes of men in this world when they 
think they must attain things which do not exist, as if they 
did exist. So the empty and vain appearances of things, just 
as in sleep, come and go. They stop beside us, they vanish. 
They are near and they disappear. They seem to be grasped 
but they are not. Finally, when one hears it said: "Awake, 
sleeper," 17 and he rises from his dream of this world, he knows 
then that everything is false. He awakes and his dream flees; 
he loses his concern over an inheritance, over the charm of 
beauty and the desire for honors. These are dreams by which 
those are undisturbed who watch with the heart, while those 
who are asleep are disturbed. 

The saintly Joseph provides material for my statement that 
the things of this world are not everlasting or even of long 
duration. He who from youth was of noble lineage, rich in 
his possessions, is suddenly a lowly slave, and to further 
embitter his mean estate of servitude his purchase was paid 
for with the money of a degenerate master. It Is considered 

46 Gf. Phil. 2.8. 

47 Eph. 5.14. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 87 

less disgraceful to be the slave of a f reedman ; slavery is twice 
servitude when one is the slave of a slave. Joseph, the slave, 
was nobly born, a pauper, richly sired, experiencing instead 
of love, hatred, instead of favor, punishment, dragged time 
and again from prison to palace, from criminal charge to 
seat of judgment. Yet he was not broken by adversity or 
carried away by success. 48 

That the turn of events is momentary is further proved by 
the constantly changing fortune of blessed David, who was 
an object of scorn to his father, but precious to God. Noble 
in triumph, cheapened by envy, called to a kingly ministry, 
loved as a son, 49 but later changed in appearance and 
features,^ fleeing his own murderous son, he used to deplore 
his personal offenses and atone for those of others, more noble 
in winning back his heir's affection than if he had disgraced 
him. Having experienced all this, he fittingly remarked: c lt 
is good for me that thou hast humbled me.' 51 

Yet, this saying can also be referred to Him who, being 
God by nature, could bend the heavens without effort, but, 
coming down to earth and taking the nature of a slave, bore 
our infirmities, 52 because He foresaw that His saints would 
not think it fitting to claim honors due to themselves, but 
would submit to their equals and prefer others to themselves, 
He said: 'It is good for me that thou has humbled me.' It 
is good for me that I have brought myself down so that all 
things may be under me, and God may be all in all. 53 Infuse 
this humility into every individual soul, and show yourself 
an example to all, saying: c Be imitators of me as I am of 
Christ.' 54 



48 Cf. Gen. 41,39-45. 

49 Cf. 1 Kings 18.3. 

50 Cf. Virgil, Aeneid 1.658. 

51 Ps. 118.71. 

52 Cf, Phil. 2.6. 

53 Cf. 1 Cor. 15.27,28. 

54 1 Cor. 11.1. 



88 SAINT AMBROSE 

Let them learn to search for the riches of good works and 
to be rich in character. The beauty of riches is not in the 
purses of the rich, but in their support of the poor. In the 
weak and needy, riches shine brighter. Let the wealthy learn 
to seek not their own interests, but those which are Christ's, 
so that Christ may search for them to bestow His possessions 
upon them. He spent His blood for them; 55 He poured out 
His Spirit; He offers them His kingdom. What more will He 
give who has offered Himself? Or what is the Father not 
going to give, who delivered His only-begotten Son to death 
for us? Therefore, admonish them to serve the Lord in purity 
and grace, to lift up their eyes to heavenly things with all 
the intensity of their minds, to count nothing as gain except 
that which is for eternal life, because all the gain of this 
world is the loss of souls. Finally, the one who wished to gain 
Christ suffered the loss of all things, 56 and although he 
spoke wonderfully well, he still fell short of expressing what 
he had received, for he spoke of things which were not his 
own; but Christ has said: If anyone wishes to come after 
me, let him deny himself/ 37 In this way he becomes his own 
loss, that he may become .Christ's gain. All such possessions 
are perishable, accompanied by loss and without gain. There 
is gain only where there is everlasting enjoyment, where 
eternal peace is the reward. 

My son, I am giving to your care the church at Forum 
Cornelius, 58 so that by reason of its nearness you may visit it 
from time to time until a bishop is ordained for it. I cannot 
travel such a distance, because I am occupied with tfie 
approaching days of Lent. 

You have there Illyrians, imbued with the false teaching 

55 Cf. Rom. 8.32. 

56 Cf. Phil. 3.8. 

57 Luke 9.23. 

58 Modern Imola. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 89 

of the Arians; beware of their cockle, do not let them come 
near the faithful or insidiously spread their false seeds of 
doctrine. Let the faithful take note of what has happened 
to them because of their perfidy; let them be quiet so they 
may follow the true faith. With difficulty can minds imbued 
with the poisons of infidelity be delivered from their impiety. 
And if the virus unfortunately is implanted in them, do not 
think they can be easily trusted. The strength and power of 
wisdom is not to be trusted rashly, especially in the matter of 
faith, which is rarely perfect in man. 

Nevertheless, if you find one tainted with this dangerous 
doctrine and of doubtful disposition, who wishes to get rid 
of the reputation in which he is held, permit him to think 
that he has made satisfaction, indulge him somewhat, for if 
satisfaction is not allowed a person his mind is estranged. 
Even skilled doctors, when they notice the signs of illness, 
do not immediately upon naming them administer medicine, 
but wait for the proper time for dispensing it. They do not 
give up the patient, but with words or with what ointments 
they can use, they soothe him so that the neglected illness 
may not grow worse through a loss of spirit, or the patient, 
being sick to his stomach, spit out the medicine; if a phy- 
sician inexperienced in matters of this kind treat the illness 
prematurely, it will never be able to come to a head. So 
also an unripe apple quickly rots if it is shaken from a tree. 

Continuing our figure from agriculture, teach your people 
to keep sacred their boundary laws, to guard their fathers' 
boundary stones which the law will protect. 59 The good favor 
of a neighbor is frequently of more value than the love of 
one's brother. 00 A brother is often far away; a neighbor is 
near, a witness of a whole life, the judge of daily living. 

59 A reference to boundary laws; Cf. Daremberg-Saglio, art., 'Finium 
regundorum actio/ II.2 1140-1141. 

60 CC. Dent. 19.14. 



90 SAINT AMBROSE 

One should be glad to have Ms neighbor's flock wander 
freely through the nearby open spaces and lie on the green 
grass, 61 taking its rest without a care. 62 

Let the master also keep his slaves subdued by the law of 
slavery instead of by control of force, treating them as 
kindred souls. For he is called paterfamilias so that he may 
govern them as sons; and he himself is a slave of God and 
calls the Lord of heaven Father, the Ruler of all the powers. 

Farewell, and love us as you do, for we love you. 



16. Ambrose to Constantius 1 

Many persons are disturbed over the question, not by any 
means unimportant, why circumcision should have been 
made of obligation under the ruling of the Old Testament, 
and set aside as useless by the teaching of the New Testa- 
ment, 2 especially since it was Abraham who first received 
the command to observe the rite of circumcision, 3 he who 
saw the day of the Lord and was glad. 4 It is certainly evident 
that he was considering not the physical, but the spiritual 
sense of the divine law, and saw in the sacrifice of the lamb 
the true suffering of the Lord's body. 

What purpose shall we think Abraham our father intended 
by first instituting what his posterity would not continue? 
Or why are infants' bodies circumcised and imperiled at 
birth, and commanded thus by a divine pronouncement so 
that by reason of a mystery of religion their life is endangered? 
What does this mean? The true cause lies hidden; the 

61 Cf. Virgil, Eel. 6.59; Aen. 5.330. 

62 Cf. Virgil, Georg. S.376. 

1 Undated. 

2 Cf. Acts 15.10. 

3 Cf. Gen. 17.10. 

4 Cf. John 8.56. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 91 

meaning should have been disclosed by a clear mystery or 
enjoined by a type of mystery not so fraught with danger. 

And why was the sign of the divine testament given to 
that member of the body which is considered unseemly to 
behold, or for what reason did the Creator of our body, at 
the very beginning of our race, choose to have His work 
circumcised, and wounded, and stained with blood, and a 
part cut off which He, who has arranged all things in 'order, 
thought proper to mold together with our other members as 
something necessary? This part of our body is either contrary 
to nature, and all men should not have what is contrary to 
nature, or it is according to nature, and that which was 
molded for the perfection of our nature ought not to be cut 
off, especially since those who are unfriendly, being outside 
the flock of the Lord our God, are wont to make this the 
chief subject of ridicule. Since it is God's purpose, as He has 
frequently declared, to bring as many as possible to the 
observance of holy religion, how much the more would 
these persons be attracted were they not deterred either by 
the danger of this very circumcision or disapproval of it? 

But to return to my first purpose, following the order I 
have laid down, it seems best to speak of the exact nature 
of circumcision. Its defense should be twofold, since the 
accusation is such: the one brought forward by the Gentiles, 
the other raised by those belonging to the people of God. 
The stronger objection comes from the heathens who think 
that men who have been marked with circumcision are 
worthy even of scorn and mockery. Yet their wise men show 
such approval of circumcision that they think it right to 
circumcise those set apart to know and celebrate their 
mysteries. 5 

And the Egyptians, who devote themselves to geometry and 
the observation of the courses of the stars, consider unholy 

5 Herodotus 2.37. 



92 SAINT AMBROSE 

that priest who has not the distinctive mark of circumcision. 
For they believe that neither the wisdom of magical incan- 
tation, nor geometry, nor astronomy exert their power without 
the seal of circumcision. And to render their operations 
effective they deem it necessary to celebrate a sort of puri- 
fication of their seers by a secret rite of circumcision. 

We also find in ancient history that not only the Egyptians, 
but some of the Ethiopians and Arabs and Phoenicians used 
circumcision among their people. They think by this rite to 
maintain a custom still to be approved, for, being initiated 
through the first fruits of their own body and blood,, they 
feel that by this consecration of a very small portion they 
can defeat the snares which the demons set for this race of 
ours. They think, too, that those who attempt to harm the 
well-being of the whole man will be crippled in their 
operations either by the Law or by the appearance of this 
sacred circumcision. I am of the opinion that in the past that 
Prince of devils has realized that his arts lose their baneful 
effects if he tries to injure one whom he finds initiated in the 
seal of sacred circumcision, or one who, at least in this 
respect, seems to be observing the divine law. 

One who carefully considers the functions of each of our 
members will be able to realize that it was for no idle purpose 
that in this little portion of this member the child was not 
only circumcised, but circumcised on the eighth day, 6 when 
the child's mother begins again to have pure blood, for she 
is said to sit in unclean blood until the eighth day. This 
answer should be given those who are not joined to us in the 
unity of faith, yet with those who differ from us discussion 
is somewhat difficult. 

To those who believe in the Lord Jesus the same reply 
must be given which we were unwilling to disclose when we 
argued against the notions of the Gentiles, If we were 

6 Cf. Gen. 17.12. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 93 

redeemed not with perishable things with silver and gold 
but with the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, 7 surely 
the one who sold us had a right to our service in the coin 
of a now sinful race. And, undoubtedly, to release from 
slavery those whom he held bound he demanded a price. 
The price of our freedom was the blood of the Lord Jesus, 
and it had to be paid necessarily to the one to whom we had 
been sold by our sins. 

Until this price was paid for all men by the shedding of 
the Lord's blood for the forgiveness of all, blood was required 
of each man who, by the Law and the customary rite, was 
following the holy precepts of religion. Since the price has 
been paid for all after Christ the Lord suffered, there is no 
longer need for the blood of each individual to be shed by 
circumcision, for in the blood of Christ the circumcision of 
all has been solemnized, and in His cross we have all been 
crucified with Him, and buried together in His tomb, and 
planted together in the likeness of His death that we may no 
longer be slaves of sin, Tor he who is dead is acquitted of 
sin.' 8 

If men like Marcion and Mani think to find fault with 
God's judgment for having determined to publish His com- 
mand about the observance of circumcision or a law directing 
the shedding of blood, they "must also think that the Lord 
Jesus is to be found fault with for having shed not a little, 
but much, blood for the redemption of this world. Even 
today He bids us shed our blood in the great struggle of 
religion, saying : c lf anyone wishes to come after me, let him 
take up his cross, and follow me.' 9 If such an accusation is 
not just when a man offers himself completely out of love, 
and cleanses himself by the shedding of much blood, 10 how 

7 CL I Peter 1.18,19. 

8 Rom. 6.5-7. 

9 Matt. 16.24. 

10 A reference to the martyrs. 



94 SAINT AMBROSE 

can we blame the Law for exacting a mere drop of blood, 
when we preach that the Lord Jesus commands the shedding 
of much blood and the death of the whole body? 

Neither was the symbol and outward appearance of circum- 
cision useless, by which the people of God, marked with a 
certain seal of the body, were set off from other nations. 
But, now that the name of Christ has been given them, they 
need no bodily sign, for they have attained the honor of a 
divine title. Why was it absurd for them to seem to bear 
some pain or labor for piety's sake, that by these difficulties 
their devotion might be better tried? It is also becoming 
that from the very cradle of life the symbol of religion should 
grow with us, and an older person would be ashamed not to 
meet labor and pain when his tender infancy had overcome 
them both. 

Christian people now have no need of the light pain of 
circumcision; they bear with them the death of the Lord; in 
their every act they engrave on their forehead contempt of 
death, knowing that without the cross of the Lord they 
cannot be saved. Who would use a needle in battle while 
armed with stronger weapons? 

Now, anyone knows how easy it is to refute those who 
maintain that more persons could have been won over to the 
observance of holy religion had they not been restrained 
through fear of pain or the sight of hardship. Could this 
frighten an older person when many babies endured it 
without peril? Granted that some Jewish babies died because 
they were unable to bear the pain and keen stroke of 
circumcision in their bodies, it did not deter others who 
were stronger by reason of their more advanced age, and it 
made more praiseworthy the man who obeyed the heavenly 
precepts. 

If they think so slight a pain an obstacle to the confession 
of faith, what do they say of martyrdom? If they find fault 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 95 

with the pain of circumcision, let them find fault, too, with 
the death of martyrs by whom religion has been heightened, 
not diminished. So far is the pain of circumcision from being 
harmful to faith that pain but makes greater trial of faith, 
for the grace of faith is greater if one despises pain for 
religion's sake. Such a man has a greater reward than one 
who was willing to undergo the pain of circumcision, only 
that he might glory in the Law and win praise from men 
rather than from God. 

It was fitting for this partial circumcision to take place 
before the coming of Him who was to circumcise the whole 
man, and for the human race to be partially prepared to 
believe that which is perfect. And if circumcision needed to 
take place, in what part of the body ought it to have been 
performed than in that which seems unseemly? 'So that 
those we think the less honorable members of the body, 
they surround with more abundant honor, and our uncomely 
parts receive a more abundant comeliness.' 11 In what part 
should a man have been reminded more of his blood than in 
that which ministers to his transgression? 

Now it is time to reply also to those who say that if this 
part of our body is according to nature it should never have 
been cut off, and if it is not according to nature it should not 
have been part of it at birth. Since they are so subtle, let 
these very men tell me whether the succession of the human 
race, which rises by generations, is according to nature or 
contrary to it. If it is according to nature jt should never be 
interrupted, and how can we praise the chastity of men, the 
virginity of maidens, the abstinence of widows, the restraint 
of spouses? No effort to promote generation ought to be 
neglected. But the Author of nature Himself did not pay 
this regard to generation for He gave us, when living in the 
body, His own example and exhorted His disciples to 

II 1 Cor. 12.23, 



96 SAINT AMBROSE 

chastity, saying: There are eunuchs who have made them- 
selves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let him 
accept it who can.' 12 

Since man is composed of body and soul (for the present it 
will suffice to speak of this and not mention the spirit), he is 
naturally not the same in both, but what is natural to the 
body is contrary to the nature of the soul, and what is natural 
to the soul is contrary to the nature of the body, so that, if I 
mention what is natural to a visible object* it is contrary to the 
nature of what is not seen; and what is natural to what is 
not seen is contrary to the nature of what is seen; and what 
is natural to what is not seen is contrary to the nature of the 
visible object. It is no incongruity in the men of God if there 
should be some things contrary to physical nature which are 
in accord with the nature of the soul. 

Let those who say that more persons would have believed, 
had circumcision not been instituted, be told in answer 
that more would have believed if there had not been 
martyrdom, but the constancy of a few is more excellent 
than the carelessness of many. Just as many kinds of baptisms 
first took place, because the true sacrament of baptism in 
spirit and water which would redeem the whole man was to 
follow, so circumcision of many first had to take place 
because the circumcision of the Lord's passion was to follow, 
which Jesus bore like the Lamb of God in order to take 
away the sins of the world. 13 

I have written this to show that it was right for circum- 
cision, which is outward, to occur first so that now, after 
the Lord's coming, it might seem to be rightfully set aside. 
Now, however, there is a necessary circumcision which is in 
secret and in the spirit, as the Jew is more excellent when 
he is in secret and in the spirit, not in the letter, for there 

12 Matt. 19.12. 

13 Cf. John 1.36. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 97 

are two men in one, and of them it is said: 'Even though 
our outward man is decaying by reason of his desires for 
wrongdoing, yet our inner man is being renewed day by 
day/ 14 and in another passage: Tor I am delighted with 
the law of God according to the inner man.' 15 Our inward 
man is one who was according to the image and likeness of 
God; our outward man is fashioned of clay. Therefore, 
again in Genesis, He reveals to you two creations of man, 16 
showing that by the second [creation] man was created. 17 

Therefore, just as there are two men, so is there a twofold 
life: one of the inward, the other of the outward man. 
Indeed, many actions of the inward man reach to the outward 
one, in the same way as the purity of the inward man passes 
over into bodily chastity. One who is free from adultery of 
the heart is free from bodily adultery, but it does not follow 
that one who has not > committed adultery in the body will 
not have sinned in his heart, according to the saying: 'Since 
anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has 
already committed adultery with her in his heart.' 18 Such 
a man, although he is not yet an adulterer in body, is already 
one in desire. So there is a circumcision of the inward man, 
for the circumcised man has put away, like foreskin, the 
allurements of all his flesh, that he may be in the spirit, not 
in the flesh, and by the spirit may mortify the deeds of his 
body. 

This is that circumcision in secret, for Abraham was 
first in uncircumcision and later in circumcision. Thus, our 
inward man, while it is in the flesh, is, as it were, in 
uncircumcision, but, when one is no longer in the flesh but 
in the spirit, he begins being in circumcision, not in uncir- 

14 2 Cor. 4.16. 

15 Rom. 7.22. 

16 Cf. Gen. 1.27. 

17 Cf. Gen. 2.7. 

18 Matt. 5.28. 



98 SAINT AMBROSE 

cumcision. And just as the circumcised man does not put 
away the whole flesh but only his foreskin, where corruption 
is more frequent, so the man who is circumcised in secret 
puts away the flesh of which it is written: 'All flesh is grass, 
and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field. The 
grass is withered and the flower is fallen: but the word of 
our Lord endureth for ever. 519 There still remains the flesh 
which will see the salvation of God, as it is written: 'All 
flesh shall see the salvation of God.' 20 Cleanse your ears 
that you may understand what this flesh is. 

The circumcision in secret should be such that it bears 
no comparison with that which is outward. Thus, one who 
is a Jew in secret excels; he is of Juda whose hand, like a 
lion crouching, rests on the neck of his enemies, and [he is] 
like a lion's whelp, which his brothers praise. 21 The prince 
does not depart from this Juda, because his words choose as 
princes those who are not overcome by worldly allurements 
or ensnared by the pleasures of this earth. And since Juda 
was born into this generation, many born afterwards are 
preferred that they may enjoy a pre-eminence in virtue. Let 
us have, therefore, a secret circumcision and let us have the 
Jew who is such in secret, that is, the spiritual one, for the 
spiritual man, like a prince, judges all things, and he himself 
is judged by no man." 2 

It was fitting for the circumcision, commanded by the 
prescription of the Law, to cease after He came who cir- 
cumcised the whole man and fulfilled the circumcision of the 
Law. Who is this but the one who said: C I have not come 
to destroy the Law but to fulfill it'? 23 

Yet, if you pay careful attention, the fact of the coming 

19 Isa. 40.6-8. 

20 Luke 3.6. 

21 Cf. Gen. 49.8. 

22 Cf. 1 Cor. 2.15. 

23 Matt. 5.17. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 99 

of the fullness of the Gentiles Is the reason why circumcision 
of the foreskin was no longer needed. Circumcision was not 
enjoined on the Gentiles, but on the seed of Abraham, as you 
have In the first promise of God : 'God also said to Abraham, 
"You shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants 
after you throughout their generations. This is my convenant, 
which you shall keep, between you and me and your des- 
cendants after you: Every male among you shall be circum- 
cised, you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; it 
shall be a token of the covenant between you and me. He 
that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every 
male throughout your generations, Including the slave born 
in your house, or bought with money from any foreigner, not 
of your own race. My covenant shall be in your flesh as a 
perpetual covenant. If any male have not the flesh of his 
foreskin circumcised, that person shall be cut off from his 
people; he has broken my covenant." ' 24 It is said that the 
Hebrew text, as Aquila suggests, does not have the words 'on 
the eighth day.' But all authority does not rest with Aquila 
who, being a Jew, passed it by in the letter and did not 
Insert c the eighth day.' 25 

Meanwhile, you have heard that the eighth day and 
circumcision were given as a sign. A sign is an Indication of 
a greater matter, an indication of some future reality. A 
covenant was given Abraham and his seed to whom it was 
said: 'Through Isaac shall be your descendants,' 26 and 
circumcision was permitted a Jew, or one born in his house, 
or bought with his money. But we cannot extend this to a 
foreigner or convert unless he is born in the house of 
Abraham, or bought with his money, or descended from his 
seed. Again, He said nothing of converts, but when He 

24 Gen. 17,9-14. 

25 Evidence of Ambrose's acquaintance with Aquila's reading, which 
he consulted in exegetical discussions. 

26 Gen. 21.12. 



100 SAINT AMBROSE 

wished to speak of them He mentioned them expressly, as 
in the words: c And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak 
to Aaron and his sons, and to all the children of Israel, 
saying to them: If any man is of the sons of Israel and of 
the strangers that sojourn among you, let that man offer a 
holocaust." 527 When it includes them, the Law touches on 
them, but when the divine pronouncement does not point to 
them, how can they appear bound by it? Again you have: 
'Speak to the sons of Aaron/ 28 when the priests are meant, 
and so also regarding the Levites. 

Thus it is clearly manifest that even by the letters of the 
Law, although the Law is spiritual, according to that letter 
the Gentile nations could not be obliged to observe circum- 
cision. Circumcision was but a sign until the fullness of the 
Gentiles should enter and all Israel be saved through circum- 
cision of the heart, not of a small portion of one member. 
Therefore, we are excused from circumcision, and the con- 
tinuance of circumcision among the Jews of today is done 
away with. 

Regarding those who say that it is objectionable now as 
in time past it was to the Gentiles, I would say, first of all, 
that they are not competent to find fault or scoff at what 
their other 29 fellows do. Suppose there were some cause for 
ridicule, why should this disturb us when the very cross of 
the Lord is a stumbling block to the Jews and to the Greeks 
foolishness, but to us the power of God and wisdom? 30 The 
Lord Himself said: 'Whoever disowns, me before men, I in 
turn will disown him before my Father in heaven.' 31 He 
teaches us not to be disturbed by those practices which are 
scoffed at by men, if we observe them in the service of religion. 

27 Gen. 17.1,2,8. 

28 Lev. 17.2. 

29 The Egyptians and others mentioned above. 

30 Cf. I Cor. 1.23,24. 

31 Matt. 10.32. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 101 

17. Ambrose to Fegadius and Delphinus, bishops 1 

My son Polybius, on his return from Africa where he had 
discharged his proconsular duties with distinction, spent some 
few days with us and endeared himself to my affections 
most favorably. 

Then, when he wished to leave here and set forth on his 
journey, he asked me to write to both of you. I promised to 
do so, and, having dictated a letter, gave it to him, addressed 
to both of you. He asked for another, but I said that it was 
addressed to both of you in accordance with our usual custom, 
since your holy souls are delighted not by the number of 
letters but by the association of your names, and that, united 
as you are in affection, it would not be permissible to separate 
your names, whereas my office also demands the practice of 
this short cut to charity." 

To be brief, he demanded another letter and I gave him 
one so as not to refuse him what he asked, nor to change 
my usual custom of acting. He, therefore, has a letter to 
deliver to each of you, for this was the only excuse he had, 
that when he had made the delivery to one of you he would 
have nothing for the other. This pledge of undivided affection 
I may render to you without any fear of reproach or scruple 
of division, especially since this form of writing is apostolic, 
and one may write to many, as Paul to the Galatians, or two 
may write to one, as it is written: 'Paul, a prisoner of Jesus 
Christ, and our brother Timothy, to Philemon.' 2 

Health to you; love us and pray for us, for I love you. 

1 Undated. 

2 Fhilem. 1.1. 



102 SAINT AMBROSE 

18, Ambrose to Felix (c, 380) 

The truffles you sent me are of extraordinary size, so large 
as to cause amazement. I had no desire to hide them., as 
they say, in the fold of my toga, but I preferred showing 
them also to others. As a result, I shared some with friends, 
some 1 kept for myself. 

Your gift is most agreeable, but it is not weighty enough 
to still in me the complaints rightly caused by the fact that 
you never come to see me, although I have loved you so 
long. Take care lest later you find the growth of my distress 
no trifle. Growth has a double meaning: things grown may be 
pleasing as gifts, but growths in the body and in the affections 
are signs of trouble. 1 See to it that I am not troubled by your 
absence. I arn upset by a deep longing for you. Try, if you 
can, to be less pleasing to me. 

I have explained my statement; I have proved my case. I 
have to hurl at you a well-aimed weapon, no ordinary state- 
ment. Certainly you must be alarmed, but notice that, 
disturbed as I am, I can jest. Hereafter, don't make excuses, 
although your present excuse is a profitable one to me. Still, 
it looks bad for you, and it shows me in a bad light, too, 
when you think I have to be bribed to overlook your absence 
or bribed in being won back to you. 

Farewell, and love us, who love you. 



19. Ambrose to Felix, greetings (c. 380) 

I was not feeling well when your message came, yet when 
I had read it, being of one heart with you, \ received no 
small help toward recovery, as though I had been restored 

1 A play on dolor is tub era. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 103 

to health by the sweet potion of your discourse, and also 
because you said that an anniversary day was fast approach- 
ing, a day most solemn for both of us, when you took hold 
of the helm of the high-priesthood. I had been speaking of 
this but a moment before to my brother Bassianus. He had 
started talking of the dedication of the basilica which he 
built and named for the Apostles, and this fact turned our 
conversation in your direction. In fact, he had expressed a 
great desire to have your Holiness present for the dedication. 

Then I brought up the matter of your day of consecration, 
which would occur at the beginning of November. In fact, 
I remarked that it was close at hand and would be celebrated 
on the morrow. After that day passed there would not be any 
excuse for you. So I made a promise on your behalf, just as 
you can do for me. I promised him; I exacted one for 
myself. I took for granted that you would be present because 
you should be. My promise will not be any more binding 
than the ordinary custom you have resolved upon, namely, 
of doing what you should. So, you see, I made the pledge 
to my brother, being not so bold in the promise as I was 
fully acquainted with you. Come, therefore, so that you 
will not disappoint two priests yourself, who would not be 
present, and myself, who made the promise so readily. 

We shall attend your anniversary day with prayers, and 
may you not forget us in your prayers. Our spirit will 
accompany you. And when you enter the second tabernacle 
which is called the Holy of Holies, 1 do as we do, that you 
may take us with you. When, in spirit, you burn incense in 
the golden censer, do not pass us by, for incense is to be 
found in the second tabernacle and from this your prayer 
becomes full of wisdom, like incense directed to heaven. 

In that place is the Ark of the Testament all covered 

1 CL Exocl. 26.55. A reference to the second anniversary of Felix's 
elevation to the episcopacy. 



104 SAINT AMBROSE 

with gold, that is, with the teaching of Christ, with the 
teaching of the Wisdom of God. There is the golden vessel 
containing manna, the vessel of spiritual nourishment, the 
storehouse of divine knowledge. There is the rod of Aaron, 
symbol of the grace of the priesthood. In the past it withered, 
but it has budded anew in Christ. There are the cherubim 
above the tablets of the Testament, the knowledge of holy 
Scripture. There is the propitiatory, 2 and high aloft is God 
the Word, the image of the invisible God, 3 who says to you : 
6 1 will speak to thee over the propitiatory, and from the midst 
of the two cherubim.' 4 He speaks to us in such a way that we 
may understand His speech. Then, because He speaks not 
of worldly matters but of those of the soul, He says: C I shall 
open my mouth in parables. 55 Where Christ is, there are all 
things, there is His teaching, there forgiveness of sins, there 
grace, there the separation of the dead and the living. 

Indeed, Aaron once stood in the midst of these furnishings 
of the temple, exposing himself to danger so that death 
would not pass over to the hosts of the living from the 
heaps of the dead. 6 In the Holy of Holies, moreover, like 
the Word, He whom we do not see stands within each one 
of us, separating the faculty of reasoning from the lifeless 
bodies of our deadly passions and plague-ridden thoughts. 
He stands as one who has come into this world to dull the 
sting of death, to close its devouring jaws, to give everlasting 
grace to the living, to grant resurrection to the dead. 7 

For Him you fight the good fight, 8 you guard His treasure, 
you lend His money, as it is written: 'Thou shalt lend to 
nations.' 9 The profit from spiritual grace is a good thing. 

2 The mercy seat or seat of judgment. 

3 Cf. Col. 1.15. 

4 Exod. 25.22. 

5 Ps. 77.2. 

6 Cf. Num. 16.47,48. 

7 Heb. 2.14,15. 

8 Cf. 1 Tim. 6.12. 

9 Deut. 15.16. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 105 

The Lord when He comes will demand it with interest, and 
when He finds that you have managed His affairs well He 
will give you more in return for less. It will be a very sweet 
delight to me that my confidence in you is warranted. Your 
ordination, which you received through the laying on of my 
hands, and through the blessing in the name of the Lord 
Jesus, 10 will not be censured. Perform your task well, there- 
fore, so that you may find a reward on that day and we may 
be in peace I in you, and you in me. 

The harvest of Christ is great, but the laborers are few, 
and it is hard to find helpers. This is an old truth. Yet the 
Lord is able to send laborers into His vineyard. 11 Certainly, 
among the people of Como several have begun now to 
believe your teaching and they have received the word of 
God through your instruction. He who gave followers will 
also give helpers, so that your need to apologize for seldom 
coming to see us will be removed, and we shall again have 
the oft-repeated favor of your company. 

Farewell, and love us as you do. 



20. Ambrose to Justus, greetings (before 381) 

You make a very good suggestion, brother, that we should 
devote our correspondence and our conversation at a distance 
to the interpretation of Heaven's words, asking me as you did 
what is signified by that didrachma, a half of which the 
Hebrew is told to offer for the redemption of his soul. 1 What 
brings us together so closely as the weaving together of 
conversation on holy subjects? 

10 Cf. 2 Tim. 1.16. 

11 Cf. Matt. 9.37. 



1 Cf. Exod. 30.12-16. 



106 SAINT AMBROSE 

A half-didrachma Is a drachma. Now, the price of the 
soul Is faith. Faith, therefore, is that lost drachma which the 
woman in the Gospel seeks diligently, as we read, lighting a 
candle and sweeping her house, and after finding it,^ she 
calls together her friends and neighbors, bidding them rejoice 
with her because she has found the drachma which she had 
lost.- Great is the damage to the soul if one has lost the faith 
or the grace which he has gained for himself at the price of 
faith. Therefore, light your lamp: 'Your lamp is your eye/ 3 
namely, the interior eye of the soul Light the lamp which 
feeds upon the oil of the spirit and shines throughout your 
whole house. Seek the drachma, the redemption of your 
soul, for, if a man loses this, he is troubled, and if he finds 
it, he rejoices. 

Mercy is also the ransom of the soul, for the saving of a 
man's soul is his riches by which, assuredly, mercy is done, 
gladdening the poor by this expenditure. 4 Therefore, faith 
and grace and mercy are the ransom of the soul; these are 
bought by the full payment of a drachma, that is, a large 
sum. So it is written in the Scriptures that the Lord said to 
Moses: 'When thou shalt take the sum of the children of 
Israel according to their number, every one of them shall 
give a price for souls to the Lord: and there shall be no 
scourge among them, when they shall be reckoned, And this 
shall every one give that passeth at the naming, half a 
didrachma according to the standard of the temple. A 
didrachma hath twenty obols. Half a didrachma shall be 
the tax to the Lord. He that is counted in the number from 
twenty years and upwards, shall give the tax. The rich man 
shall not add, and the poor man shall diminish nothing 
from the half-didrachma. When they begin to give an offering 



2 Cf. Luke 15.8,9. 

3 Matt. 6.22. 

4 Cf. Prov. 13.8. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 107 

to the Lord and to pray for their souls, the money received 
from the tax on the children of Israel, thou shalt receive and 
deliver unto the uses of the tabernacle of the testimony and 
it will be a reminder of them before the Lord to be merciful 
to your souls,' 5 

Was not the offering made, therefore, when a rich man 
offered more or a poor man less, even though the half- 
didrachma consisted only of money and not of virtue? So 
we must realize that the drachma is not a material thing 
but a spiritual one, which is known to be contributed equally 
by all. 

Finally, in regard to the heavenly food (for heavenly 
wisdom is food and delightful nourishment, which those in 
paradise feed upon, the unfailing food of the soul, called by 
the mouth of God, manna), we read that distribution was 
made to each soul so that there might be an equal share. 
They gathered it according to the direction of Moses, both 
those who gathered much and those who gathered little. 
Each man measured a gomor and the amount did not 
abound or remain over and above for him who had gathered 
much, nor was it less for him who had gathered less. 6 Each 
one, in accordance with the number of souls which dwelt 
with him in the tent, gathered a gomor for each that is, a 
measure of wine as the interpretation goes. 

There is a measure of wisdom, too, which harms if it is 
above measure, because it has been written: Do not be 
very wise.' 7 Paul, too, taught that a division of graces is given 
according to measure, when he says : 'Now the manifestation 
of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit, to one the 
utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge, 
to another the faith of wisdom according to the same Spirit, 

5 Exod. 30.12-16. 

6 Cf. Exod. 16.17,18. 

7 Eccle. 7.17. 



108 SAINT AMBROSE 

faith in the same Spirit,' 8 and according to the will of the 
Spirit this grace is apportioned. It belongs to His justice that 
He divides; it belongs to His power that He divides according 
to His will, or because He wishes to give to each what He 
knows will be of profit. 

A gomor is a measure, a measure of wine which gladdens 
the heart of man. 9 Can anything but a draught of wisdom 
be the joy of the heart? This is the wine which Wisdom has 
mixed in the bowl, 10 and offers to us to drink so that we 
may receive temperance and prudence, which should be 
carried to our feeling and thoughts and all the movements 
in this house of ours in such equal measure that we shall 
know how to abound in all things, to fail in none. 

This truth is more fully understood regarding the blood of 
Christ, for its power is not lessened, is not increased. 
Whether we partake of a little or whether we drink much, 
the same measure of redemption is accomplished for all. 

The patriarchs are also commanded to eat the Pasch of 
the Lord, that is, the lamb, that they may eat in accordance 
with the numbers of souls, not too many, not too few. Some 
are not to be given more and others less, but in accordance 
with the number of each. Thus, the strong may not take more, 
nor the weak less. An equal grace is given to each, redemption 
is given, a gift is given. There should not be too many 
persons, either, for then someone may go away deprived of 
his hope and redemption. There are too many when there 
are some beyond the number, since the saints are all 
numbered, and the hairs of their head. The Lord knows 
who are His. There should not be too few lest by reason of 
the great amount of grace someone be too weak to receive it. 

He teaches all to bring equal devotion and faith to the 

8 1 Cor. 12.7-11. 

9 Cf. Ps. 103.15. 
10 Cf. Prov. 9.2. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 109 

Pasch of the Lord, that is, to the 'passage/ for it is the 
Pasch when the soul lays away unreasonable passion, but 
takes up a goodly compassion, that she may share Christ's 
passion and await His passage into her, that He may dwell 
in the soul, and walk with her and become her God. Grace 
itself is equal in all, but virtue varies in each. Let each person, 
then, receive grace proportioned to his strength, so that the 
strong man does not feel need or the weak man a burden. 

You have this truth in the Gospel, 11 since the same wages 
were given to all who worked in the vineyard. Few reach 
the goal, few the crown. Few say: 'There is laid up for me 
a crown of justice.' 12 The gift of liberality and grace is one 
thing; the reward of virtue, the remuneration of labor, is 
another. 

The didrachma is our redemption, nay, a half-didrachma. 
It has redeemed us from death, it has redeemed us from 
slavery, lest we be subject to the world which we have 
renounced. Our Lord in the Gospel, therefore, tells Peter to 
go to the sea, to let down his fishhook and to take the 
stater he finds in the mouth of a fish and give it to the tax 
collector for the Lord and himself. 13 This is the didrachma 
which was demanded according to law. Yet it was not the 
king's son who owed it, but the foreigner. For, why should 
Christ pay to ransom Himself from this world, He who had 
come to take away the sin of the world? 14 Why should He 
pay the price of ransom from sin, He who had come down 
to forgive the sins of all? 15 Why should He redeem Himself 
from slavery, He who had emptied Himself to give liberty to 
all? 16 Why should He redeem Himself from death, He who 

11 Cf. Matt. 20.10. 

12 2 Tim. 4.8. 

13 Cf. Matt. 17.26. 

14 Cf. Matt. 17.24. 

15 Cf. John 1.29. 

16 Cf. Phil. 2.7. 



110 SAINT AMBROSE 

had become incarnate to give the resurrection to all by His 
death? 

Surely, the Redeemer of all had no need of redemption, 
but, just as He had received circumcision in order to fulfill 
the Law/ 7 and had come to baptism to fulfill justice/ 8 so 
also He did not refuse the payment of the didrachma to the 
tax collectors, but at once ordered a stater to be given, 
instead of a didrachma, for Himself and for Peter. 19 He 
preferred to pay beyond what was required by Law rather 
than to refuse to give what belonged to the Law. At the 
same time He showed that the Jews acted contrary to the 
Law by exacting a didrachma from each man., whereas 
Moses had prescribed that a half-didrachma should be 
exacted. Christ, therefore, bade a drachma apiece to be paid 
in the stater for Himself and for Peter. The tribute of Christ 
is good since it is paid in a stater, because justice is a stater 
and justice is above the Law. Besides, ' Christ is the con- 
summation of the Law unto justice for everyone who be- 
lieves.'" This stater is found in the mouth of a fish, of that 
fish which the fishers of men catch, of that Fish 31 which 
weighs its words so that He may bring forth words tried by 
fire. 22 

The Jews did not know the stater which they gave to the 
betrayer. The Law exacts a half-didrachma for the redemp- 
tion of a soul, and vows this to God, being unable to claim 
the whole didrachma. One does not find any amount of 
prayer in a Jew. But the true man is free, the true Hebrew 
belongs entirely to God everything which he has partakes 
of this freedom. But whoever refuses freedom, saying: 'I 
love my master and my wife and children, I will not go out 

17 Cf. Luke 2.22. 

18 Cf. Matt. 3.15. 

19 Cf. Matt. 17.26. 

20 Rom. 10.4. 

21 Ichthus, a symbol of Christ. 

22 Cf. Fs. 17.31. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS Ml 

free,' 23 has none of God. This refers not only to the Lord 
but also to the weakness of a man who subjects himself to 
the world, because he loves the world as his own soul, that 
is, his nous, the source of his will. This refers not only to 
one's wife but also to the delight one has in the affairs of the 
house while he cares not for those which are eternal. At his 
doorway and on his threshold his master punctures the 
servant's ear 24 so that he will remember the words by which 
he chose slavery. 

And you, O Christian, do not imitate such a person as 
this; because it is written for you that if you wish to be 
perfect you should offer to God not a half-didrachma, but 
that you should sell all that you have and give it to the 
poor. 20 Nor should you keep a part of your service for the 
world; you should deny yourself completely, and take up the 
cross of the Lord and follow Him. 

We know that a half-didrachma is demanded by the Law, 
because half is kept for the generation of this world that is, 
for worldly affairs and use in the home and for posterity, 
to whomever a portion from the inheritance needs to be 
transmitted. The Lord, therefore, responded to the Pharisees 
testing Him with that crafty question whether He thought 
tribute should be given to Caesar: 'Why do you test me, 
you hypocrites? Show me the coin of the tribute. 526 And 
they offered Him a denarius on which was the image of 
Caesar. He then said to them: 'Render, therefore, to Caesar 
the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are 
God's/ 27 showing them how imperfect they were, although 
they seemed perfect in their own eyes, for they paid their 
debt to Caesar before they did so to God. Those who are 

23 Exod. 21.5. 

24 A mark of servitude, for earrings. 

25 Cf. Matt. 19.21. 

26 Matt. 22.18,19. 

27 Matt. 22.21. 



112 SAINT AMBROSE 

concerned first with this world must first make payment to 
that which Is of this world. For this reason He also said: 
'Render/ that is, you yourself, 'give back those things which 
belong to Caesar/ you., in whom the figure and image of 
Caesar is found . 

The Hebrew youths Ananias, Azarias, and Misael 28 and 
Daniel, too, the wise man 29 who did not adore the image of 
the king, who did not believe it, or accept anything from 
the king's table., were not bound to the payment of tribute. 
They possessed none of the things which are subject to an 
earthly king. 30 Their imitators, too, whose inheritance is God, 
do not pay tribute. The Lord therefore says: 'Render, 5 
that is, do you yourselves give back, you who have brought 
forward the image of Caesar, you with whom it is found. 
But I owe nothing to Caesar becauses I have no part in this 
world: 'The prince of the world is coming, and in me he 
has nothing. 531 Peter owes nothing, My Apostles owe nothing, 
because they are not of this world although they are in this 
world. I have sent them into this world but they are no 
longer of this world, because they arc with Me above the 
world. 

Payment is demanded for those things which are of the 
divine law, not those of Caesar. The perfect man, that is, 
the preacher of the Gospel, because he had preached more ? 
no longer owed that payment. The Son of God did not owe 
the tribute, nor did Peter owe tribute, who had been admitted 
by grace to adoption by the Father. c But that we may not 
give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook, and 
take the fish that comes up. And opening its mouth thou 
wilt find a stater; take that and give it to them for me and 

28 Cf. Dan. 2.17. 

29 Cf, Dan. 3.18. 

30 Cf. Dan. 1.8. 

31 John 14.30. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 113 

for thee.' 32 O great mysteries! He gives a half-dldrachma 
because the Law bade Him, and He did not refuse what Is 
of the Law, as He was born of a woman, born under the 
Law. I have said 'He was born' according to the Incarnation, 
but 'of a woman' according to sex. Womankind is the sex, 
virgin is the species; the sex has to do with nature, a virgin 
with Integrity. In so far as He was born of a woman, that is, 
in a body, He came under the Law. And so He ordered the 
didrachma to be paid for Himself and Peter because they 
were both born under the Law. He bids It to be paid accord- 
Ing to the Law so that He might redeem those who were 
under the Law. 33 

Nevertheless, He orders a stater to be given, clamping shut 
their mouths so that out of much talking they may not admit 
their sin. And He bids that to be given which was found 
in a fish's mouth so that they might know the Word. They 
exacted what was of the Law; why did they not know what 
was of the Law? They ought not to have been ignorant of 
the Word of God, because it was written: ''The Word is 
near on your lips and in your heart.' 34 Therefore, a whole 
didrachma is paid to God by Him who kept nothing for 
this world. Justice Is paid to God, which is soberness of the 
mind; guarded speech is paid to God, which Is moderation 
in speech: 'With the heart a man believes unto justice, and 
with the mouth profession of faith Is made unto salvation.' 35 

Moreover, a drachma can be Interpreted as the Old 
Testament, a didrachma as the price of both Testaments. 
Because, according to the Law, each one was redeemed by 
the Law, but he who is redeemed according to the Gospel 
pays a drachma according to the Law, he Is redeemed by 

32 Matt. 17.26. 

33 Cf. Gal. 4.4,5. 

34 Deut. 30.14. 

35 Rom. 10.10. 



114 SAINT AMBROSE 

the blood of Christ according to grace, having a double 
redemption, both of vow and of blood. Faith alone is not 
sufficient for perfection unless one also obtains the grace of 
baptism and, being redeemed, receives the blood of Christ. 
For this reason, the drachma which is paid to God is good. 

A drachma is not a denarius, but something different. On 
a denarius there is the image of Caesar; on a drachma, the 
image of God. It is the image of the one God for the 
imitation of this one. It begins from One and is diffused 
endlessly. And later, from the Infinite, all things return to 
this One, as to their end, because God is both the beginning 
and end of all. Thus mathematicians do not call a unit c a 
number 5 but the 'element' of a number. We said this, too, 
since it has been written: 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, 
the beginning and the end,' 36 and 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord 
thy God is one God. 337 

You, therefore, be one and the same as the image of God, 
not sober today but drunk tomorrow; today peaceable, on 
the morrow litigious; today virtuous, on the morrow in- 
continent. Each one is changed by variation of his habits and 
becomes someone else; in this condition he is not recognized 
for what he was, and he begins to be what he was not, not 
his genuine self. It is a serious matter to be changed for the 
worse. Be like the image on the drachma, unchangeable, 
keeping the same habits every day. When you see the 
drachma, see the image; when you see the Law, see Christ, 
the image of God, in the Law. And because He Himself is 
the image of the invisible and incorruptible God, let Him 
shine for you as in the mirror of the Law. 38 Confess Him 
in the Law that you may acknowledge Him in the Gospel. 

36 Apoc. 1.8. 

37 Deut. 6.4. 

38 Cf. Col. 1.15. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 1 15 

If you have known Him through His commands, acknowl- 
edge Him in His works. 

Farewell, and if you think it was not fruitless to question 
me about the didrachma, and if you need anything later on, 
do not hesitate to call on me. 



21. Ambrose to Justus (c. 381) 

Many persons say that our sacred writers did not write in 
accordance with the rules of rhetoric. We do not take issue 
with them: the sacred writers wrote not in accord with 
rules, but in accord with grace, which is above all rules of 
rhetoric. They wrote what the Holy Spirit gave them to 
speak. 1 Yet, writers on rhetoric have found rhetoric in their 
writings and have made use of their writings to compose 
commentaries and rules. 

In rhetoric, these qualities in particular are demanded: a 
cause (aition), a subject (hule), and an end or purpose 
(apotelesma] . Now, when we read that blessed Isaac said 
to his father: 'Behold, you have the fire and the wood, but 
where is the victim,' are these qualities lacking? The one 
asking the question is in doubt; the one who answers the 
question gives the answer and removes the doubt. The fire 
is the cause; the wood is the subject, called materia in Latin; 
the third item, the purpose, is that which the child sought 
and which the father showed him when he asked: c Where 
is the victim?' c God himself,' he said, 'will provide the 
sacrifice, my son.' 2 

Let us discuss the meaning of the mystery for a little 
while. God showed a ram sticking fast with its horns; 3 the 

1 Cf. Acts 2.4. 

2 Gen. 22.7,8- 

3 Cf. Gen. 22.13. 



116 SAINT AMBROSE 

ram Is the Word, full of tranquillty and restraint and patience. 
By this Is shown that wisdom is a good sacrifice and belongs 
to one who Is duly wise and making atonement to under- 
stand the purpose of an action. The Prophet David therefore 
says: 'Offer up the sacrifice of justice; 4 Sacrifice belongs 
to justice as It does to wisdom. 

Note, therefore, that the mind which is working is aglow 
and warm like fire. Note the thing known to the Intelligence, 
the subject matter. Where Is the third ingredient, the under- 
standing of the purpose? You see color, but where Is 'seeing'? 
You perceive objects, but where Is 'perceiving 3 ? All men do 
not see 'matter, 3 and therefore God gives the gift of under- 
standing and perceiving and seeing. 

Therefore, the Word of God Is our purpose, that Is, the 
end and fulfillment of all our questioning. This Word Is 
infused Into the wise and puts an end to doubt. Yet, even 
men who refuse to believe in the coming of Christ refute 
themselves very aptly with the result that they profess what 
they think they should not profess. They say that the c ram' 
is the Word of God, yet they do not believe in the mystery of 
the Passion, although the Word of God Is, In that mystery, 
the very one in whom the sacrifice has been fulfilled. 

Let us first enkindle In us the fire of the mind, so that It 
will be at work In us. Let us seek the subject matter, which 
gives us that which feeds the soul, as if seeking It In dark- 
ness, for the patriarchs did not know what manna was, 
yet they found it, Scripture says, and they called it the speech 
and Word of God. 5 From, this continual and ever-flowing 
source all learning flows and streams. 

This is a heavenly food. It Is signified by the person of 
the one speaking: 'Behold I will rain bread from heaven for 
you. 3 This is the cause, for God works, watering minds with 



4 Ps. 4.6. 

5 Cf. Exod. 16.16. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 117 

the dew of wisdom; the subject matter Is that which delights 
souls seeing and tasting it and asking whence comes that 
which is more splendid than light and sweeter than honey. 
They are given the answer in the Scripture narrative: This 
Is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.' 6 And this 
is the Word of God which God has set in orderly array. By 
it the souls of the prudent are fed and delighted; it is clear 
and sweet, shining with the splendor of truth, and softening 
with the sweetness of virtue the souls of those who hear It. 

The Prophet [Moses] learned the cause of what he had 
to accomplish. When he was sent to the king of Egypt to 
free the people of God, he said: 'Who am I that I should go 
and should bring forth the people from the power of the 
king?' The Lord answered: I will be with thee.'. Again 
Moses asked: 'What shall I say to them if they ask me: 
"Who is the Lord who sent thee, what Is his name?" ' The 
Lord said: 'I AM WHO AM. You will say: HE WHO is hath 
sent me/ 7 This is the true name of God, 'Eternal Being.' 
Therefore, the Apostle says of Christ: Tor the Son of God, 
Jesus Christ, who is in you, who was preached among you 
by us by me and Sylvanus and Timothy was not now 
"Yes" and now u No," but only "Yes" was In him.' 8 Moses 
answered: c lf they will not believe me, nor hear my voice, 
but they will say: "The Lord hath not appeared to thee," 
what shall I say to them?' God gave him signs to perform 
so that it would be believed that he was sent by the Lord. A 
third time Moses said: 'I am not worthy and I have a weak 
voice, and a slow tongue, how will Pharao hear me? } He was 
told: 'Go, I will open thy mouth and I will teach thee what 
thou shalt speak.' 9 

The questions in the middle of the passage and the answers 

6 fixed. 16.4,15. 

7 Exod. S.I 1-14. 

8 2 Cor. 1.19. 

9 Exod. 4.1,10,14. 



118 SAINT AMBROSE 

contain the seeds and science of wisdom. And the end, too, 
is pleasing, because God says: 'I will be with thee.' 10 
Although He gave him certain signs to use, when Moses 
doubted, so that you might know that the signs were for 
those who would not believe, but the promise for believers, 
God gave an answer, taking into consideration the frailty of 
his merit or of his devotion: C I will open thy mouth, and I 
will teach thee what thou shall speak.' Thus a perfect end 
or purpose was kept. 

You have this also in the Gospel: 'Ask, and it shall be 
given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be 
opened to you. 511 Ask from the cause, that is, seek from the 
Author. You have as the subject matter spiritual qualities by 
which you seek; knock, and God discloses the Word to you. 
The mind is that which seeks, which works like fire; the 
vigor of the mind works upon spiritual qualities as fire does 
upon wood; and God discloses the Word to you this is the 
end or purpose. Elsewhere, too, in the Gospel we have the 
words: c But when they deliver you up, do not be anxious 
how or what you are to speak; for what you are to speak 
will be given you in that hour. For it is not you who are 
speaking, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks through 
you.' 12 

You have this, too, in Genesis when Isaac says: 'How did 
you find it so quickly, my son?' He answered: 'The Lord 
your God let me come upon it.' 13 God is the end. He 
who seeks in the Lord finds; Laban was a man who did not 
seek in the Lord; because he sought idols, he did not find. 14 

He [Isaac] observed very well what are called the rules 
and distinctions of speech. The first distinction is: 'Set your 

10 Excd. 3.12. 

11 Matt. 7.7. 

12 Matt. 10.19. 

13 Gen. 27.20. 

14 Cf. Gen. 31.33. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 119 

game near me, my son, that I may eat/ 15 He arouses and 
enkindles his son's mind by a sort of fire of exhortation so 
that he will work and go in search. The second distinction 
is: 'How did you find it so quickly, my son?' This is in the 
form of a question. The third distinction is an answer: 'The 
Lord your God let me come upon it.' 16 The end or purpose 
is God who accomplishes and perfects all things; about this 
there must be no doubt. 

There is also a distinction about things which spring up 
of their own accord: 'You do not sow, you will not reap, 517 
for, although cultivation stimulates the growth of seeds, 
nature works in them by a certain power so that they do 
spring up. 

Thus, the Apostle says: C I have planted, Apollo watered, 
but God has given growth. So then neither he who plants is 
anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the 
growth.' 18 God makes His gift to you in the spirit, and the 
Lord grows in your heart. Act, therefore, so that He may 
breathe upon you and grow. Then you may reap. But if you 
do not sow you will not reap. You are warned, as it were, 
that you should sow; you have not sowed, you will not 
reap it is a proverb. The final action is included in the 
first act. Sowing is the beginning; reaping is the end. 

Learn from me, nature says. She is a help to the learner. 
God is the Author of nature. It is also through God that we 
learn well, because it belongs to nature to learn by the heart. 
The hard of heart do not learn. There is growth in the 
nature which has the divine gift of grace. God gives to it 
full accomplishment and perfection, that is, the most excellent 
and divine nature and substance of the Trinity. 

Farewell, and love us as you do, because we love you. 

15 Gen. 27.25. 

16 Gen. 27.20. 

17 Lev. 25.11. 

18 1 Cor. 3.6,7. 



120 SAINT AMBROSE 

22. Ambrose to Marcellus 1 

There has devolved upon me the business of your lawsuit, 
which you did not initiate but only carried on from a sense 
of duty and a desire to prove your generosity toward the 
poor. I had to take cognizance of it because of the imperial 
enactment 2 and because I was obligated by the authority of 
the blessed Apostle and the nature and conduct of your 
learning and life. Since I myself rebuked you for keeping 
alive your age-long quarrel, the parties in question put upon 
me the obligation of hearing the case. 

I was ashamed to refuse, I admit, especially since the 
lawyers for each party challenged one another, saying that 
it would be clear from my investigation to which party the 
decision of law and right would incline the more. In short, 
the days had almost drawn to a close only a few hours 
remained while the prefect was hearing other cases when 
the lawyers in the suit asked an adjournment of a few days 
so that I might preside as judge. These Christian men were 
most eager that the prefect should not be the judge of a 
matter under the jurisdiction of a bishop. They said, also, 
that certain things had been done in an unseemly fashion 
and each party according to his own inclination doubted what 
fell to a bishop's jurisdiction, what to a prefect's. 

Overwhelmed by these events and reminded of the 
Apostle's precept which reproves and says: 'Is it not those 
inside whom you judge? 33 and c lf, therefore, you have cases 
about worldly matters to be judged, appoint those who are 
rated as nothing in the Church to judge. To shame you I 
say it. Can it be that there is no wise man among you 
competent to settle a case in his brother's behalf? But brother 

1 Undated. 

2 Cf. Sozomen 1.9. 

3 I Cor. 5.12. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 121 

goes to law with brother and that before unbelievers?' 4 I 
accepted the hearing on condition that I might be the judge 
of a compromise. I saw that, if I handed down a decision 
in your favor, the other party might not acquiesce; while, 
if the sentence was carried in his favor, your defense and that 
of your sister might break down. The rendering of a 
decision was very difficult. The favor resulting from our 
priestly relationship might have seemed suspect to them; too, 
for when does a defeated man ever think his opponent more 
righteous than himself? Truly, the costs of this long-standing 
suit would have been unbearable to each if its outcome 
failed to provide some gain or, at least, the comforting 
thought that one had acted generously. 

I saw that the issue was doubtful, that the law was subject 
to dispute, while numerous pleas were being entered by 
each party and petitions of an invidious sort presented to the 
emperor which contained, in addition, charges of tampering 
with his decrees. Perceiving, also, that if your opponent won 
the case he would sue for double the mesne profits and for 
the costs of the protracted suit, while it was unbecoming 
your office to demand the costs of the case, and that it was 
not suitable for you to claim any of the profits which as 
owner you had received, I preferred to settle the case by 
compromise rather than aggravate the situation by a decision. 
In addition, there is the serious consideration that, although 
the dispute were settled, ill-will would remain and be de- 
structive of good-feeling. 

Involved in these difficulties and feeling that the office 
of the priest, the sex of the defendant and the serious state 
of widowhood, and regard for a friend having a threefold 
and weighty claim on me, I thought I should be sure to 
desire no one's defeat, but everyone's success. And my 
wishes did not fail; you all were victors in keeping with your 

4 1 Cor. 6.4-6. 



122 SAINT AMBROSE 

kinship, with nature, and with the saying of Scripture : ' Why 
not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?' 5 

Perhaps you feel you are in a worse state because of the 
loss of the suit and the money costs. But, indeed, for bishops 
the losses of this world are better than its gains: c lt is more 
blessed to give than to receive.' 6 Perhaps you will say I 
ought not to have been exposed to fraud, to have suffered 
injury, to have undergone loss. Well? Would you have 
inflicted these? And even though you did no such things, the 
other party would have complained of suffering them. Con- 
sider, therefore, what the Apostle says: c Why not rather 
suffer wrong? 3 It almost seems as though one who does not 
suffer wrong inflicts it, for the stronger one should bear it. 

Why am I discussing this with you as if it were my concern, 
not yours? You made the offer, acting as an arbiter of the 
case, suggesting that your sister own part of the estate during 
her lifetime, but that after her death the entire property go 
to your brother. Nor must anyone sue him in your name or 
in that of the Church, but, if he chooses, he may hold it 
without giving anything to the Church. When I announced 
this and acclaimed the great flood of generosity thus manifest 
in your heart, your brother declared that the offer suited 
him, provided there remained no fear of injury to the 
property. How, he asked, could a woman, a widow besides, 
manage taxable property? What would be the advantage to 
him if you yielded the right of ownership while he thought 
greater losses would accrue to him from the poor tending of 
the farm? 

The lawyers on both sides were influenced by his remarks; 
so, with the consent of all, it was determined that the 
honorable Laetus should receive the farm and pay yearly to 
your sister a fixed quantity of grain, wine, and oil. Your 

5 1 Cor. 6.7. 

6 Acts 20.35. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 123 

sister thus lost no rights, but only her anxiety; she relinquished 
not the fruits but the labor, not the revenues but the gamble, 
as it is often called, on an uncertain return. If violent wind 
storms destroy the harvest, your sister will still have the yield 
that is hers. If crops wither during an excessive drought, 
your sister will still have her crops undiminished. Laetus will 
assume the conditions of his offer, and, should pressure of 
necessity or extraordinary taxes become severe, your sister, 
by reason of your kindness, will be clear of Laetus' losses, while 
Laetus will console himself with the management of the 
estate. 

Thus you have all been winners : Laetus in gaining a right 
over the property which he did not have; your sister by now 
enjoying the yearly profits without dispute or strife; but no 
one won so completely and gloriously as yourself, for, in 
addition to your wish to assure your sister of your generosity, 
you have brought her to a share in your fraternal union. 
You conceded to your brother the property, to your sister 
the use and enjoyment of it. Nothing is lost to the Church 
which is gained for piety; charity is not a loss but a gain for 
Christ; the fruit of the Holy Spirit is charity. 7 The case, 
then, has been concluded in the manner prescribed by the 
Apostle. We lamented formerly that you were engaged in this 
lawsuit, but the strife has enabled you to clothe yourself in 
the form of the apostolic life and precept. The one was 
unbecoming your priesthood; this transaction meets the 
requirements even of the Apostle. 

Fear not that the Church will be rendered destitute and 
out of reach of your generosity. She partakes of your fruits, 
fruits even more plentiful, for she has the fruits of your 
teaching, the service of your life. She has a richness which 
you have watered with your discipline. Rich in these returns 
she seeks no temporal ones, for she has those which are 

7 Cf. Gal. 5.22. 



1 24 SAINT AMBROSE 

eternal. You have added not only the fruits mentioned by the 
Apostle, but those found in the Gospels, for the Lord said: 
'Make friends for yourselves with the mammon of wicked- 
ness.' 8 You have made friends, even more marvelously, of 
your opponents. You made brothers return to the laws of 
kindred, and you assure them by this charity and grace that 
they will be received into eternal dwellings. 

Thus, under the guidance of Christ and the direction of 
two bishops, namely, yourself who first supplied the pattern 
outline, and myself who passed sentence, the peace which 
we reached will not fail; for where so many vowed their 
faith infidelity cannot but be punished. 

Laetus will plow the land for his sister, whereas formerly 
he grudged her the services of others. Laetus will gather the 
harvest for his sister, though before he could not bear the 
gifts of others; he will bear the fruits to his sister's barns 
and do so gladly, 9 renewing now the meaning of his name. 

Meanwhile, being conformed to the Apostle of Christ, and 
assuming the prophetic authority, you shall say to the Lord: 
'You have possessed my reins.' 10 This possession is more 
fitting for Christ, that He possess the virtues of His priest, 
that He receive the fruits of purity and continency, and, 
what is more, of charity and peace. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



23. Ambrose to Sabinus (c. 390) 

You sent back my little books which I shall esteem more 
highly owing to your criticism of them. In fact, I am sending 
you others, not to be delighted with your favorable criticism, 

8 Luke 16,9. 

9 A play on his name, Laetus, meaning 'glad.' 
10 Ps. 138.13. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 125 

but lured by the frank appraisal which I asked of you and 
which you promised to give. I much prefer that if something 
puzzles you it be corrected by your criticism before it gets 
abroad beyond recall, rather than for you to praise what 
others will censure. Therefore, I am asking you to be the 
judge of the works you requested, not so much wanting you 
to read the things I sometimes make available to all, but to 
submit them to the weight of your opinion. This criticism, as 
was said of old, 1 will not need long sittings and delay. It is 
easy for you to pass judgment on my writings. 

I thought that at your invitation I should have recourse 
to you; it is now your turn to discern clearly and consider 
carefully the corrections so that you may not be guilty of 
the faults which have crept upon me unawares. For some 
reason or other, [in my case] because of a mist of ignorance 
which envelops me, one's own writings are deceptive and 
escape the notice of the ear, and as one delights in his 
children, even though they be deformed, so the writer's 
discourses, however inelegant, flatter him. Frequently, a 
remark is made unguardedly, or taken in a bad sense, or 
expressed with ambiguity. Thoughts which are to be sub- 
jected to another's criticism should be weighed and sifted of 
every grain of evil, not for our own benefit, but to facilitate 
the other person's judgment. 

Accordingly, kindly lend an attentive ear, study all the 
details, test the remarks, see if there is any vain flattery and 
persuasiveness instead of sincere faith and sobriety of ex- 
pression. Note the words of doubtful value or false connota- 
tion, that an adversary may not take any of them in his 
favor. Let it be toned down if it begins to be argumentative. 
That book is in a bad way which is defended only by its 
champion. The book which goes forth without a mediator 
speaks for itself. But this book of ours will not leave us 

1 Cf. Cicero, Epist. ad jam. 9.3. 



1 26 SAINT AMBROSE 

unless it has your authority. When you bid it go with your 
approval it will be trusted on its own. 

However, since the 'kingdom of God is not in word, but 
in power/ 2 if a word troubles you consider the force of the 
expression. The expression is the opinion on faith which we 
hold against the Sabellians and Arians, an opinion handed 
down to us from our elders; namely, that we venerate God 
the Father and His only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit; 
that this Trinity is of one substance and majesty and divinity; 
that in this name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit we baptize, 3 
as it is written that the Son, though co-eternal with the 
Father, took flesh, was born of the Holy Spirit and of the 
Virgin Mary, equal to the Father in divinity, having the 
nature of God, that is, in all the fullness of the divinity 
which dwells in Him, as the Apostle says, 4 corporeally, and 
that in the person of man He took the nature of a slave 
and humbled Himself even to death. 5 

This, then, is our statement also against Photinus; against 
Apollinaris this is a lawful safeguard, the expression that 
just as in His nature as God He lacked nothing of the 
divine nature and fullness, so in the form of man He lacked 
nothing that would cause Him to be judged an imperfect 
man, for He came to save the whole man. It was not fitting 
that He who completed a good work in others should allow 
this to be imperfect in Himself. If He lacked anything as 
man, then He did not redeem all; -and if He did not redeem 
all, He deceived us, since He said that He had come to save 
all men. But, since it is impossible for God to deceive, 6 He 
did not deceive us. Therefore, since He came to redeem all 

2 1 Cor. 4.20. 

3 Cf. Matt. 27.19. 

4 Cf. 2 Cor. 2.9. 

5 Cf. Phil. 2.8. 

6 Cf. Heb. 6.18. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 127 

men and save them, He certainly took upon Himself the 
whole of man's perfection. 

This, as you remember, is our stand. If the words are at 
all disturbing they do not harm the faith, for the mind 
which continues steadfast guards against doubtful meanings 
and preserves one from error. 

These remarks which are a prelude to other discussions I 
shall put in the collection of our letters, if you are willing, 
and give them a number. 7 Thus they will be commended 
because of your name and through our letters to one another 
our mutual love in the Lord will be increased. Read in 
order to criticize and tell me what displeases you, for true 
love is proved by constancy. I am following the custom of 
old men, writing letters in an ordinary and friendly style, 
weaving in any words of holy Scripture that come to me. 

Farewell, my brother, and love one who loves you, for 
I love you very much. 



24. Ambrose to Sabinus (c. 390) 

I have sent you the volume you asked for, written more 
clearly and neatly than the one I forwarded some time ago, 
so that by ease in reading it your judgment will in no way 
be hindered. The original book was written not for appear- 
ance's sake but out of necessity. For I do not dictate all my 
writings, 1 particulary at night, when I do not wish to 
trouble and burden others. Then, too, words which are 

7 Evidence that Ambrose collected some of his letters during his life- 
time. 



1 Pauhnus (Vit. 38) says he did not decline the task of writing books 
with his own hand unless his body was kept from so doing by some 
infirmity. 



128 SAINT AMBROSE 

dictated need to roll out with a certain impetuosity and in a 
rapid flow. 

But I who am desirous of selecting with nicety the words 
I use in my old age, employing a familiar style and proceed- 
ing at a slow pace, feel it is more suitable that I put my 
own hand to the stylus, not to appear to be lustily pouring 
forth words, but concealing them, so that I will not have to 
be ashamed in the presence of another who is doing the 
writing, but conscious only of myself, without a witness, 
and weighing with the ear and also with the eye the things 

1 write. For, the tongue is swifter than the hand, as Scripture 
says: 'My tongue is the pen of a ready scribe. 32 

Perhaps you will say this refers to the speed of the writer. 
You are not mistaken in the meaning that only the speed of 
the ready scribe can catch the words of prophetic language. 
The Apostle Paul also used to write with his own hand, as 
he himself says: 'I am writing to you with my own hand. 53 
He said this for reasons of honor, but we [say so] because 
of shame. 

However, now that you have my opinion about the books, 
let us interchange letters, for they serve us who are widely 
apart to unite with one another in affection, and the image 
of their presence is vivid between the absent, and written 
discourse unites those who are apart. By this means, too, we 
join heart with our friend and pour out our thoughts to him. 

If, as you suggest, there is a savor of older writers in 
my letters, not only do our hearts seem united by this progress 
toward true learning, but our conversation is expressed in 
a freer and fuller form, with the result that mutual inquiry 
and reply will seem to unite us for battle and in this activity 
we shall stimulate and encourage one another as friends. 

2 Ps. 44.2. 

3 Gal. 6.1L 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 129 

Need I cite examples of our forebears, who by their 
letters instilled faith into the hearts of the people and wrote 
to whole nations together, showing themselves present though 
writing far away, as did the holy Apostle 4 who says that he 
was absent in body but present in spirit, not only when he 
was writing but also when passing judgment? Finally, he 
while absent condemned and absolved by letter. For Paul's 
letter was a kind of image of his presence and a pattern of 
his work. 

His letters, he says, were not like the letters of others, 
'weighty and telling,' but 'their bodily appearance weak and 
speech of no account. 5 Such was his letter, such the pattern 
of his preaching as was the reality of the worker. 'What we 
are by letters, when absent, such are we also in deed when 
bodily present.' 5 In his letters he expressed the likeness of 
his presence and in his work he stamped the fulfillment of 
his promise. 

Farewell, and love us, as you do, because we also love you. 



25. Ambrose to Sabinus (Spring, 387) 

After reading my Hexaemeron 1 you determined to ask me 
if I have added anything on paradise, and indicated that you 
are very anxious to learn my ideas about it. I wrote on 
this subject a long time ago when I was not yet an 
experienced bishop. 

I have found that most persons 5 opinions about this are 

4 Cf. 1 Cor. 5.3. 

5 2 Cor. 10.10,11. 



1 A series of nine sermons on the creation, delivered on six consecutive 
days in April, 387 (PL 11123-274) . 



130 SAINT AMBROSE 

divided. Josephus, 2 simply as a historian, says the place 
was planted with trees and many shrubs and watered, 
moreover, by a river which branched into four streams. 
After its waters were gathered into one, this earth was not 
drained entirely nor did its springs become dry. Even today 
it breaks forth into fountains and sends streams of water 
with which, like a loving mother, from full udders it nourishes 
its young. 

Some hold one opinion, others another, yet all agree that 
in paradise 3 were planted the tree of life and the tree of 
knowledge which distinguishes good and evil, together with 
other trees, full of strength, full of life-giving powers, breath- 
ing and rational creatures. Wherefore one concludes that the 
real paradise cannot be considered earthly, nor planted in 
any particular spot, but situated in the principal part of our 
nature, which is animated and vivified by the virtues of the 
soul and the infusion of the spirit of God. 

Moreover, Solomon, by inspiration, clearly declared that 
paradise is within man. And because he expresses mysteries 
of the soul and the word, or of Christ and the Church, he 
says of the virgin soul, or of the Church which he desired 
to present a chaste virgin to Christ: 4 My sister, my spouse, 
is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fount sealed up.' 5 

The word 'paradise' in Greek is rendered 'garden' in 
Latin. Susanna was in a paradise (orchard), 6 as we read 
also in Latin. And Adam was in a paradise, 7 which is also 
our reading. Do not be disturbed if some 'Latin texts have 
the reading 'garden 3 and others c paradise.* 

Where the virgin is, there, too, is the chaste wife. The 
chosen virgin holds her seal and enclosures, both in a 

2 Josephus, Antiq. 1.1.2. 

3 Cf. Gen. 2.9. 

4 Cf. 2 Cor. 11.2. 

5 Cant. 4.12. 

6 Cf. Dan. 13.7. 

7 Cf. Gen. 2.8. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 131 

paradise, so that in the shady bowers of virtues she may be 
shielded from the fevers of the body and the passions of the 
flesh. 

Therefore, paradise is in the higher part of our nature, 
luxuriant with the growths of many opinions, where God in 
the beginning put the tree of life, that is, the root of piety, 
for this is the very substance of our life, if we give due 
homage to our Lord and God. 

He has planted in us, too, a nursery of the knowledge of 
good and evil, for man alone among other living creatures 
of earth has the knowledge of good and evil. There are 
also many other plants whose fruits are virtues. 

Now, since God knew that man's affection, capable of 
grasping knowledge, would incline more quickly toward 
cunning than the perfection of wisdom (for the quality of 
His handiwork could not be hidden from the Judge who 
had set down definite boundaries in our souls), He wished 
to eliminate cunning from paradise and, as the provident 
Author of our salvation, to put therein the zest for life and 
for the practice of virtue. So He ordered man to eat of every 
tree in paradise, but not of the tree of the knowledge of 
good and evil. 8 

Since every creature, however, is subject to passion, lust 
stole into man's affections with the stealth of a serpent. 
Moses was quite right in representing pleasure in the likeness 
of a serpent: it is prone on its belly like a serpent, not 
walking on feet or raised on legs, but it glides along, so to 
speak, with the slippery folded curves of its whole body. 
Earth is its food, as it is the serpent's, for it has no com- 
prehension of heavenly food. It feeds on things of the body 
and it is changed into many sorts of pleasures, and bends to 
and fro in twisting wreathes. It has venom in its fangs, and 
with these the dissolute individual is disemboweled, the 

8 Cf. Gen. 3.23. 



132 SAINT AMBROSE 

glutton destroys himself, the spendthrift is undone. How 
many men has wine wrecked, drunkenness destroyed, gluttony 
bloated? 

Now I know why the Lord God breathed into the face of 
man. 9 There is the seat and abode and enticement of lust in 
the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, the mouth [breathed there] 
in order to fortify our senses against such lust. These things 
He infused into us as the serpent did cunning. For it is 
not pleasure, but labor and continuous meditation, along 
with the grace of God, which give perfect wisdom. 

Yet, because the posterity of the human race is involved 
in the snares of the serpent, let us imitate the cunning in 
him so as not to run our head into danger, but guard it 
unharmed above all else, Tor our head is Christ.' 10 Let it 
remain unharmed so that the serpent's venom may not have 
power to harm us, for 'Wisdom with riches is good,' 11 that 
is, with faith, for those who believe in the Lord have riches. 

But if the first man, who was placed in paradise and 
talked with God, 12 could fall so easily, though made from 
virgin clay, but lately formed at God's word and created, 
not yet clotted with the gore of homicide and slaughter, not 
polluted with shameful and unbecoming deeds, not yet 
condemned in our flesh to the curse of a tainted heredity 
how much more easily later on has the slippery road to sin 
brought the human race to a greater precipice, since one 
generation in turn succeeds another, a generation more base 
succeeding one less wicked? 

We see how a magnet has such natural force as to attract 
iron and communicate itself thereto, as some persons, desirous 
of experimenting, have applied iron rings to the magnet so 

9 Cf. Gen. 2.7. 

10 1 Cor. 11.3. 

11 Eccle. 7.12. 

12 Cf. Gen. 2.15. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 133 

that it holds all of them in the same way. Then, if to the 
ring to which the magnet clings they add another ring and 
so on in succession, although it penetrates each by its 
natural strength, it holds the first with a stronger, the last 
with a weaker grasp. How much truer it is that the condition 
and nature of the human race has fallen from a purer into 
a less pure state when it reaches the more wicked? 

If the natural law is weakened in substances which are 
incapable of sin, how much more is its vigor dulled by souls 
and bodies tainted with evil! For, when evil had appeared 
and innocence been destroyed, there was no one to do good, 
not even one. 13 The Lord came to restore grace to nature, 
in fact, to give it increase, that where sin abounded grace 
might more abound. 14 It is clear, then, that God is the 
Author of man, and that there is one God, not many 
gods One who made the world, and one world only, not 
many, as the philosophers maintain. 

First, therefore, He created the world and then the 
inhabitants of the world for whom all the world was to be a 
fatherland. Even today, if, wherever the wise man goes, he is 
a citizen and knows his own, nowhere considering himself a 
mere pilgrim or a foreigner, how much more was that first 
man an inhabitant of all the world, and as the Greeks say, 
a 'cosmopolite, 5 for he was the final work of God, continually 
talking with God, a fellow citizen of the saints, a groundbed 
of virtues? Placed over all creatures of earth, sea, and sky, 
he considered the whole world his dominion; God guarded 
him as His handiwork, and as a good parent and maker 
never abandoned him. In fine, He so cherished this creature 
that He redeemed him when he had been lost, He received 
him back when he had been banished, and when he died 
He brought him back to life through the Passion of His 

13 Cf. Ps. 13.11. 

14 Cf. Rom. 5.20. 



1 34 SAINT AMBROSE 

only-begotten Son. God, then, is man's Author, and as a 
good artisan He loves His own handiwork; as a kind father 
He does not abandon one He has redeemed, but like a good 
householder reinstates him in the riches of His own posses- 
sions. 

Let us beware of having that man, our understanding, 
enervated by woman, that is, by passion, for she was deceived 
and beguiled by the pleasures of the senses. Let her not 
enslave and drag him over to her laws and purposes. Let us 
flee from sensual delight as from a serpent. It has many 
allurements, particularly in man. Other living things are 
wooed by the desire for food, but man, in so far as he has 
more varied senses of eyes and ears, has so much the greater 
dangers. 

Farewell, and love us as you do, because we love you. 



26. Ambrose to Sabinus (c. 390) 

Since our practice of writing letters gives you pleasure, 
too, whereby those who are far apart indulge in conversation 
as though they were near, I shall continue often addressing 
my writings to you, even when I am alone. 1 For I am never 
less alone than when I appear to be alone, nor less at leisure 
than when I am at leisure. Then, at least, I summon at will 
those whom I will, and I bring to my side those whom I 
love more dearly or whom I think more suited to me. No 
one speaks, no one interrupts our talk. Then do I have you 
more and I talk about the Scriptures and we chat together 
at great length. 

Mary was alone when she spoke with an angel. 2 She was 
alone when the Holy Spirit came to her and the power of 

1 A familiar saying of Cato, found in Cicero, Off. 3.1.1. 

2 Cf. Luke 1.28. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 135 

the Most High overshadowed her. She was alone and she 
worked the salvation of the world and conceived the re- 
demption of all men. Peter was alone and learned the 
mysteries about the Gentiles who were to be sanctified 
throughout the world. 3 Adam was alone and he was not an 
offender because his heart clung to God. 4 But, after the 
woman was united to him, he was unable to cling to the 
commands of heaven and so he hid himself when God walked 
in paradise. 

Now, when I read the sacred Scriptures, God walks in 
paradise. 5 The Book of Genesis is a paradise where the virtues 
of the patriarchs blossom forth. Deuteronomy is a paradise 
where the commandments of the Law flourish. The Gospel 
is a paradise where the tree of life brings forth good fruits 
and pours upon all men the teachings of everlasting hope. 

When I hear: 'Love your enemies' and 'Sell what you 
have and follow me' 6 and 'To him who strikes thee on one 
cheek, offer the other also/ 7 and I am not doing these 
things, and scarcely love one who loves me, and do not sell 
what I have, and wish to avenge a wrong which I have 
received, and to get back by force what has been taken 
from me when Scripture says that I must give more than 
was asked of me or taken from me I realize that I am 
acting contrary to the commands of God. And opening the 
eyes of conscience, I see that God is present, walking up to 
me. I want to hide, to cover myself, but I am naked before 
God before whom all things are na*ked and open. 8 In 
shame I desire to cover up my sinful deeds like the limbs of 
my body, but because God sees everything and because I 
am shaded by leaves or hidden under cover, I think I am 

3 Cf. Acts 10.9-16. 

4 Cf. Gen. 2.8. 

5 Cf. Gen. 3.8. 

6 Matt. 5.44; 19.21. 

7 Luke 6.29. 

8 Cf. Heb. 4.13. 



136 SAINT AMBROSE 

in hiding, just because I am covered with a body. It is just 
the same garment of skin which Adam had when he was 
cast out of paradise, 9 not protected from the cold, or saved 
from reproach, but exposed to harm and blame. 

From these words it is clear that when we are alone we 
offer ourselves to God, then we lay open to Him our hearts, 
then we lay aside the cloak of deceit. Adam was alone when 
he was placed in paradise; he was alone, too, when he was 
made to the image of God, but he was not alone when he 
was cast out of paradise. The Lord Jesus was alone when 
He redeemed the world, 10 for no ambassador or messenger, 
but the Lord Himself alone, saved His people. Yet, He is 
never alone in whom the Father always dwells. So let us 
also be alone, that the Lord may be with us. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



27. Ambrose to Sabinus (c. 389) 

The man whom you describe as a sower of slanderous 
speech is of very little consequence and has already received 
the reward of his venomous remarks. He has been answered in 
public and has reaped openly what he sowed secretly. I 
thought him a vain and envious person before, and when his 
remarks reached my ears I at once stated that he had been 
infected with the poison of Apollinaris, who cannot tolerate 
the doctrine that our Lord Jesus Christ became a servant 
for our sake in taking a body, although the Apostle declares 
that He took the nature of a servant. 1 This is the bulwark, 
this is the hedge, of our faith. One who destroys this will 

9 Cf. Gen. 3.23. 
10 Cf. John 16.32. 

I Cf. Phil. 2.7. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 



137 



himself be destroyed, as it is written: Tor the serpent will 
gnaw him who breaketh a hedge,' 2 

At first I sent a mild dispatch to him, saying: 'Why do 
you perform a good act with evil purpose?' For I count it a 
blessing if anyone reads my writings and tells me what 
disturbs him, first of all, because I can be deceived in what 
I know, and many things escape the ear, many sound 
different to certain individuals. It is fine, if possible, to avoid 
such things. Then I must not be annoyed if things are found 
in my writing which many consider disputable, since many 
questions are asked about the words of the Apostles, in the 
Gospels, and the words of our Lord. Persons thus indulge 
their own humor, especially the man who encompassed the 
world to find someone to censure, not to imitate. 

In order to cavil at something in my writings he found 
plenty of room for himself, for in that passage where the 
Lord Jesus said : 'I praise thee, Father, Lord of heaven and 
earth/ 3 I stated that it was intended to show that God is 
the Father of the Son, and the Lord of creation. [This he 
criticized] although in the psalm the Son very plainly calls 
His Father 'Lord,' saying : 'Seeing me, they shake their head. 
Help me, O Lord, my God.' 4 Speaking as a servant, He called 
Him Lord who He knew was His Father, being the equal 
of God in form, yet proclaiming Himself a slave in the 
substance of His flesh, for servitude belongs to the flesh, 
dominion to the Godhead. 

With admirable wisdom you note that those things which 
are said in the Gospel have reference to the time of the 
Gospel when the Lord Jesus lived among men in human 
form. Now we no longer know Christ as man. 5 He was 

2 Eccle. 10.8. 

3 Matt. 11.25. 

4 Ps. 108.25,26. 

5 C. 2 Cor. 5.16. 



138 SAINT AMBROSE 

seen and known thus to men of former times, but 'now the 
former things have passed away, and all things are made 
new/ 6 All things are from God who reconciled us to Himself 
through Christ, for we were dead, but one became a slave 
for all 7 What shall I say: [only] c a slave'? He became sin, 
a reproach, a curse. The Apostle said: Tor our sakes he 
made him to be sin,' 8 that the Lord Jesus 'was become a 
curse,' 9 He said that when He has subjected all things to 
Himself, then He, too, will be subject. Peter, also, in the 
Acts of the Apostles, said: c ln the name of Jesus of Nazareth 
arise and walk.' He also said there that c He glorified His 
Son Jesus/ 10 and no one took issue with him in regard to 
the time. Moreover, in the Apocalypse, He is also called by 
John c the Lamb.' 11 And He is called in the psalm 'a worm 
and no man.' 12 He became all these things so that He might 
dull the sting of our death, that He might take away our 
state of slavery, that He might wipe away our curses, sins, 
and reproaches. 13 

Since Scripture contains these and other divine things, and 
many more which you have brought up, and which you 
pointed out to one who made inquiry, how can- anyone hesi- 
tate to say that these were piously written, since they are di- 
rected to the glory of Christ, not to His disparagement? If it 
was said of His gift, that is, the manna, that 'he did not find 
less that had provided less, neither had he more that had 
gathered more,' 14 could He Himself be either diminished or 
increased? For, what in Him was diminished when He took 

6 2 Cor. 5.17. 

7 Cf. Phil. 2.7. 

8 2 Cor, 5.21. 

9 Gal. 3.13. 

10 Acts 3,6,13. 

11 Apoc. 5.12. 

12 Ps. 21.7. 

13 Cf. 1 Cor, 15.55. 

14 Exod. 16.18. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 139 

upon Himself our servitude, our weakness? He was humbled, 
indeed, by being in the form of a slave, but He remained 
unchanged in the glory of God the Father. He was a worm 
on the cross, but He forgave the sins even of His persecutors. 
He was a reproach but at the same time also the Majesty 
of the Lord, as it is written: 'And the glory of the Lord 
shall be revealed: and all flesh together shall see the 
salvation of God.' 15 What had He lost if He had nothing 
less? He had neither comeliness nor beauty, but He had the 
fullness of divinity. He was considered weak, but He had 
not ceased to be the power of God. He appeared a man, 
but the divine majesty and glory of the Father shone on 
earth. 

Very aptly, then, the Apostle repeats the same expression, 
saying of the Lord Jesus: 'who though he was by nature 
God, did not think being equal to God a thing to be clung 
to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave.' 16 
What is the meaning of by nature God 5 except the fullness 
of the Godhead, the expression of His divine perfection? 
Although He was in the fullness of the Godhead, He emptied 
Himself and received the fullness of nature and human 
perfection. Just as He lacked nothing as God, so He did not 
lack anything for His completeness as man, and as a result 
He was perfect in each nature. Thus, David says He was 
'beautiful above the sons of men.' 17 

The Apollinarist is refuted; he has nowhere to turn; he 
is caught in his own nets. He Himself said: He took the 
nature of a slave, He was not a slave. Again, I ask, what is 
the meaning of c by nature God'? He answers: c in the reality 
of God.' 18 There are,' says the Apostle, 'those who are not 

15 Isa. 40.5. 

16 Phil. 2.6,7. 

17 Ps. 44.3. 

18 Phil. .2.7. 



140 SAINT AMBROSE 

gods in reality.' I ask you what is the meaning of 'taking 
the nature of a slave'? Without doubt, it means the perfection 
of nature and the human condition, in order that He might 
be in the likeness of men. And well did he say : the likeness' 
not of the flesh but 'of men,' because He was in the same 
flesh. But, because He alone was without sin, whereas all 
men are in sin, He was seen in the appearance of man. So 
the Prophet says too: 'He is a man and who can know it?' 19 
a man, indeed, according to the flesh; more than man accord- 
ing to the divine operation. When He touched a leper, 20 He 
seemed a man, but more than man when He cleansed him. 
And when He wept for Lazarus who had died He wept as a 
man, but He was superior to man when He bade the dead 
to come forth with feet bound. 21 He seemed a man when 
He hung on the cross, but more than man when He 
unsealed the tombs and brought the dead to life. 22 

Let not the venom of Apollinaris flatter itself because it 
is written: 'And in appearance he was found as a man,' 23 
for the manhood of Jesus is not thereby denied, but con- 
firmed, since elsewhere Paul himself says of Him: 'Mediator 
of God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus.' 24 It is the 
customary manner of Scripture so to express itself as we also 
read in the Gospel: 'And we saw his glory glory as of the 
only-begotten of the Father.' 25 As He is there called only- 
begotten and it is not denied that He is the only-begotten 
Son of God, so He is said to be man, and the perfection of 
man that was in Him is not denied. 

Since, therefore, He was in the likeness of a servant, He 
was humbled even unto death, yet He remained in the glory 

19 Jer. 17.9. 

20 Cf. Matt. 8.3. 

21 Cf. John 11.33,34. 

22 Cf. Matt. 27.52. 

23 Phil. 2.7. 

24 1 Tim. 2.5. 

25 John 1.14. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 141 

of God. In what way was His slavery prejudicial to Him? 
We read that He became a slave because we read that He 
was made of a virgin and created in the flesh. Now, every 
creature is a servant, as the Prophet says: Tor all things 
serve thee.' 26 Therefore, God the Father also says: C I have 
found David, my servant: with my holy oil I have anointed 
him, He shall cry unto me: "Thou art my Father, the God 
of my salvation." And I will make him my firstborn. 327 And 
in another psalm: 'Preserve my soul, because I am holy to 
thee; save thy servant,' and further on in the same psalm: 
'Give thy strength to thy servant, and save the son of thy 
handmaid.' 28 I have gathered together the words of the 
Father and of the Son that this man receive a reply, not from 
human arguments, but from the words of God. 

Elsewhere, He says: 'Into thy hands I commend my 
spirit,' and 'Thou hast set my feet in a spacious place,' and 
'I have become a reproach for all my enemies,' and in the 
same psalm: 'Make thy face to shine upon thy servant.' 29 
And through Isaias, too, the Son of God Himself says: 
'From the womb of my mother the Lord hath called my 
name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword. In 
the cover of his hand he hath protected me. He hath made 
me like a chosen arrow, and in his quiver he hath covered 
me. And he said to me : "Thou art my servant, Israel." ' 30 
The Son of God is also called Israel, as [we read] elsewhere: 
*O Jacob, my servant, Israel my beloved.' 31 He alone not 
only truly saw God the Father, but has also revealed Him. 32 

And there follows: c ln thee I shall be glorified. And I 
said: I have worked in vain, I have spent my strength 

26 Fs. 118.91. 

27 Fs. 118.21,27,28. 

28 Ps. 85.2,16. 

29 Ps. 30.6,9,12,17. 

30 Isa. 49.1-3. 

31 Isa. 44.1. 

32 Cf. John 1.18. 



142 SAINT AMBROSE 

without cause. Therefore my judgment is with the Lord 
and my sorrow before God.' And now speaks the Lord c that 
formed me from the womb to be his servant that I may 
bring back Jacob unto him [and Israel will not be gathered 
together]. 3 Who but Christ has gathered together the people 
of God? Who has been glorified before the Lord? Who is 
the Power of God? To whom did the Father say: 'Is it a 
great thing for you to be called my servant?' And to whom 
does He say: 'Behold I have given thee to be the covenant 
of my generation, the light of the gentiles, and thou mayst 
be my salvation even to the farthermost parts of the earth'? 33 
Of Him He speaks also through the mouth of Ezechiel, 
saying: 'And I will set up one shepherd over them, and my 
servant David will rule them, and he will be their shepherd : 
And I the Lord will be their God: and my servant David 
the prince in the midst of them.' 34 Of course, David the 
king was already dead, but the true David, the truly humble 
one, the truly meek, the true Son of God, strong of hand, is 
foretold by this name. He also is pointed out in the book of 
the Prophet Zacharias, God the Father saying: C I will bring 
my servant, the Orient is his name/ 35 Although He wore 
sin-soiled garments, was not the Sun of Justice clothed with 
the splendor of His divinity? 

What more can I say? Shall we consider servitude a state 
of greater weakness than sin or than a curse or a reproach 
more degraded than the infirmities which He took for our 
sake in order to turn them from us? He became all things 
so that He might annul them all. But they [our enemies] 
will not admit that He was made a slave, a reproach, sin, a 
curse, because they affirm that the Word and Flesh are of 
one substance, and they say: 'Because He redeemed us He 

33 Isa. 49.4-6. 

34 Ezech, 34.23,24. 

35 Zach. 3.8. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 143 

is called a servant, and ought to be called sin.' And they do 
not advert to the fact that this is the glory of Christ, that He 
took the state of slavery in His body, to restore liberty to us 
all; He bore our sins that He might take away the sins of 
the world. 

He became a slave, sin, a curse that you might cease to 
be a slave of sin, and to free you from the curse of the 
divine judgment. He therefore took upon Him your curse, 
for 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a gibbet/ 36 He 
became a curse on the cross so that you might be blessed in 
the kingdom of God. He was dishonored and disregarded 
and esteemed of no worth. He kept saying: 'I have labored 
in vain.' 37 Through Him Paul merited to say: 'Not in vain 
have I labored,' 38 so that he might bring to His servants 
the first fruits of good works and the glory of preaching the 
Gospel, by which all men are freed from the burden of toil. 

After hearing these words, the partridge is abandoned in 
the midst of its days, the partridge which claimed to have 
hatched eggs which she did not lay, 39 and has been over- 
whelmed by the voice of the Lord Jesus. At last, she is 
making preparation to flee. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 

36 Gal. 3.13. 

37 Isa. 49.4. 

38 Phil. 2J6. 

39 Cf. Jer. 17.11. 



144 SAINT AMBROSE 

28. Ambrose to Sabinus, bishop (c. 395) 

I have learned that Paulinus, second to none of the 
Aquitanians in luster of birth, has sold his and his wife's 
possessions, and has taken up these practices of faith that he 
is giving his property to the poor by changing it into money, 
while he, poor now instead of rich, as if relieved of a heavy 
burden, has said farewell to home, country, and kindred in 
order to serve God with greater zeal. Word has it that he 
has chosen a retreat in the city of Nola where he will pass 
his days out of reach of the tumult of the world. 

His wife, 1 too, closely followed the example of his zeal and 
virtue, not objecting to her husband's resolve. She has 
transferred her property to the jurisdiction of others and is 
following her husband, where, perfectly content with his 
little patch of ground, she will comfort herself with the 
riches of religion and charity. They have no children, 2 but 
their desire is a posterity of good deeds. 

What will our leading citizens say when they hear this? It 
is unthinkable that a man of such family, such background, 
such genius, gifted with such eloquence, should retire from 
the Senate and that the succession of so noble a family 
should be broken. Although in performing the rites of Isis 
they shave their heads and eyebrows, they yet call it a 
shameful thing for a Christian out of devotion to his holy 
religion to change his apparel. 

I regret that falsehood is so respected while truth is so 
neglected, that, as a result, many persons are ashamed to 
appear devoted to their holy religion, not considering the 
voice of the One who says: 'Whoever is ashamed of me 
before men, of him will I be ashamed before my Father who 
is in heaven. 53 Moses was not ashamed, and when he was 

1 The saintly Therasia. 

2 A child, born in Spain, died after eight days. 

3 Matt. 10.32. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 145 

summoned to the palace he preferred to be reproached as 
one of Christ's own rather than to have the treasures of the 
Egyptians. 4 David was not ashamed when he danced before 
the Ark of the Covenant in the presence of all the people. 5 
Isaias was not ashamed, for he went naked and barefoot 
through the crowd, proclaiming heavenly prophecies. 

As a matter of fact, what is actually so embarrassing as 
the gestures of actors and the twining of their limbs in 
womanly fashion? Lewd dancing is the companion of wan- 
tonness and the pastime of riotous living. What did he 
[David] mean by singing: 'Clap your hands, all ye people'? 6 
Obviously, if we consider his bodily actions, we realize that 
he clapped his hands, dancing with women and stamping 
with unbecoming sounds. Of Ezechiel, too, it was said: 
"Strike with the hand and stamp with the foot.' 7 

Yet, these actions of the body, though unseemly when 
viewed in themselves, become reverential under the aspect of 
holy religion, so that those who censure them drag their 
own souls into the net of censure. Thus, Michol censured 
David for dancing and said: 'How glorious was the king of 
Israel today, for he uncovered himself today before the eyes 
of his handmaids.' And David answered her: C I will play 
before the Lord who chose me rather than my father, and 
than all his house, and "commanded me to be ruler over his 
people of Israel. And I will play before the Lord and I will 
thus be uncovered and I will be mean in thy eyes, and with 
the handmaids, to whom you said I was uncovered, I shall 
be honored.' 8 

David did not blush at a woman's censure, nor was he 
ashamed to meet with reproach, becauses of his devotion to 

4 Cf. Heb. 11.26. 

5 Cf, 2 Kings 6.20. 

6 Ps. 46.2. 

7 Ezech. 6.11. 

8 2 Kings 6.20-22. 



146 SAINT AMBROSE 

religion. He played before the Lord as His servant and 
pleased Him the more in so humbling himself before God 
and laying aside his royal dignity, performing the humblest 
tasks for God like a servant. She who censured such dancing 
was condemned to barrenness and had no children by the 
king lest she should beget the proud. In truth, she had no 
continuance of posterity nor of good deeds. 

Let one who still doubts hear the testimony of the Gospel, 
for the Son of God said: 'We have played for you, and you 
have not danced.' 9 The Jews who did not dance and knew 
not how to clap their hands were abandoned, but the Gentiles 
were called and applauded God in spirit. The fool foldeth 
his hands together, and eateth his own flesh,' 10 that is, he 
becomes involved in the concerns of the body and eats his 
own flesh, just as does all-powerful death. And such a man 
will not find eternal life. But the wise man who lifts up his 
works that they may shine before his Father who is in 
heaven 11 has not consumed his flesh; instead, he has raised it 
to the grace of the resurrection. This is the wise man's honor- 
able dance which David danced, mounting by the loftiness of 
his spiritual dance to the throne of Christ that he may see and 
hear the Lord saying to His Lord: 'Sit thou at my right 
hand.' 12 

If you think we are not foolish in using this interpretation 
of the dance, do not spare yourself the trouble of reading 
further, that you may review with me the well-known case of 
Isaias, how he was naked before the people, not in mockery 
but gloriously, as one who uttered with his mouth the words 
of the Lord. 

Someone perhaps will say: 'Was it not disgraceful for a 

9 Matt. 11.17. 

10 Eccle. 4.5, 

11 Cf. Matt. 5.16. 

12 Ps. 109.1. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 147 

man to walk naked among the people since he must meet 
both men and women? Must not his appearance have shocked 
the gaze of all, but especially that of women? Do we not 
ourselves generally abhor the sight of naked men? And are 
not men's genital parts covered with clothing that they may 
not offend the gaze of onlookers by their unsightliness? 3 

I agree, but you must consider what this act represented 
and what was the reason for this outward show; it was that 
the young Jewish youths and maidens would be led away 
into exile and walk naked, 'As my servant Isaias hath walked,' 
he says, 'naked and barefoot.' 13 This might have been ex- 
pressed in words, but God chose to enforce it by an example 
that the very sight might strike more terror, and what they 
shrank from in the body of the Prophet they might utterly 
dread for themselves. Wherein lay the greater abhorrence: 
in the body of the Prophet or in the sins of the disbelievers 
who deserved by their deeds that calamity of captivity? 

Why was there no ground for reproach in the body of the 
Prophet? He was intent not upon bodily but spiritual affairs, 
for in his ecstacy he did not say: 1 shall listen to what I 
say' but 'what God will say to me.' 14 He paid no attention 
to whether he was naked or clothed. Adam was naked before 
his sin, 15 but he did not know that he was naked, for he was 
clothed with virtues, but after he committed sin he knew 
that he was naked and covered himself. Noe was naked, 16 
but he was not ashamed, for he was filled with joy and 
spiritual gladness, while the one who mocked him for being 
naked remained exposed to the reproach of everlasting dis- 
grace. Joseph, too, that he might not be shamefully stripped 
bare, left his cloak and fled naked. Which of them was 

13 Isa. 22.3. 

14 Ps. 84.9. 

15 Cf. Gen. 2.25. 

16 Cf. Gen. 9.21. 



148 SAINT AMBROSE 

dishonored here, she who held another's garment or he who 
threw off his o\yn? 

That it may be more fully clear that Prophets look not to 
themselves, nor what lies at their feet, but to heavenly things, 
Stephen, when he was being stoned, saw the heavens open 
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 17 then he did 
not feel the blows of the stones, he did not heed the wounds 
of his body, but, fastening his eyes on Christ, he clung to 
Him. So, too, Isaias did not notice his nakedness, but made 
himself the instrument of God's voice, 18 that he might pro- 
claim what God spoke within him. 

Suppose he did see himself, was it possible for him not to 
do what he was bidden? Could he believe that God ordered 
a shameful act? Sara was accused of disbelief for laughing, 19 
but Abraham was praised for not doubting God's word, and 
he was given a great reward for believing at God's bidding 
that he could devoutly become his son's slayer. 20 

Why should the Prophet feel shame when one thing is 
being enacted, but another prefigured? The Jews, who were 
abandoned by the Lord God because of their wickedness 
and were soon overwhelmed by their enemies, would have 
liked to align themselves with the Egyptians as a protection 
against the Assyrians, whereas they might have returned to 
the faith had they consulted their own good. The Lord in 
anger showed them that they indulged a vain hope of 
lessening one outrage against the Lord with a greater sin, 
for the very persons whose help the Jews trusted were 
themselves to be conquered. This is a matter of history. 

Figuratively, he trusted the Egyptians, he who was given 

17 Cf. Acts 7.55. 

18 Cf. Isa. 22,2, 

19 Cf. Gen. 18.12. 

20 Cf. Gen. 22.1-19. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 149 

to wantonness and enslaved to pleasure. No- man becomes 
engrossed in excess unless he departs from the commands of 
the true God. As soon as he begins to take pleasure in luxury, 
he begins wandering from the true faith. Then he commits 
two grevious crimes : an outrage of the body and profanation 
of the mind. One who does not follow the Lord his God is 
engulfed in extravagance and pleasure, those death-dealing 
passions of the body. One who is absorbed and plunged into 
this sort of mire falls into the meshes of evil, for The people 
sat down to eat, and drink,' 21 and then demanded that gods 
be made for them. In this the Lord teaches us that the person 
who gives his soul to these two kinds of vices is stripped of 
his clothing, not of a woolen garment, but of living virtue, 
a cloak not of time but of eternity. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



29. Ambrose to Severus, bishop (c. 392) 

James, our brother and fellow priest, has come from 
distant Persia and chosen to find rest for himself in your 
fair countryside on the coast of Campania. Notice in what 
spot he hopes to enjoy a haven, as it were, from the storms 
of this world, where, after long toils, he may spend the 
remainder , of his life. 

That shore of yours, far removed from dangers and every 
disturbance, fills one's emotions with peace and draws the 
mind from frightening and raging seas of trouble to a beautiful 
repose, so that the words that David said of the Church and 
which apply to all in common appear to be especially suited 
and applicable to you : c He has founded it upon the seas, and 

21 Exod. 32.6. 



150 SAINT AMBROSE 

has made it firm upon the waters.' 1 The mind that is free of 
onslaughts of barbarians and the bitterness of war has time 
for prayer, is devoted to the service of God, cares for the 
things of the Lord, and cherishes the interests of peace and 
tranquility. 

However, we who are exposed to the outbreaks of bar- 
barians and the storms of war, are tossed in the midst of a 
sea of many troubles and can only infer from these labors 
and trials more grievous trials in the future. The saying of 
the Prophet seems to be in accord with our condition: 'I 
saw the tents of the Ethiopians for their labors.' 2 

Having now lived fifty-three years in the body, amid the 
shadows of this world which obscure the reality of the future 
perfection, and having already endured such heavy sorrows, 
am I not encamping in the tents of the Ethiopians and 
dwelling with the inhabitants of Madian? 3 They, owing to 
their knowledge of the works of darkness, fear to be judged 
even by mortal men, 4 Tor the spiritual man judges all 
things, and he himself is judged by no man.' 5 

Farewell, brother, and love us as you do, for we love you. 

1 Ps. 23.2. 

2 Hab. 3.7. 

3 The troubled events he mentions are thought to refer to a barbarian 
outbreak which greatly terrified the people of Milan in 392. This 
event and the reference to his fifty-three years help to date Ambrose's 
birth in 339. Cf. Dudden, op. cit. 2. McGuire (op. cit. 312) does not 
accept this date as determined by Palanque. 

4 Cf. Ps. 119.5. 

5 1 Cor. 2.15. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 151 

30. Ambrose to Siricius 1 

I am always pleased to receive a letter from you. But 
when you delegate those of our fellow servants and entrust 
letters to our brother and fellow priest Syrus, my joy is 
redoubled. Would that the pleasure had been longer-lasting! 
As soon as he came he decided he must return. This then 
made my regret less and increased my esteem for him. 

I dearly love those priests and deacons who, once they have 
finished a duty, do not allow themselves to remain away any 
longer. As the Prophet says: 'I am not weary, following 
thee.' 2 Who can be weary following Jesus, for He Himself 
says: c Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and 
I will give you rest. 53 Let us, then, always follow Jesus and 
never falter, for if we follow Him we never fail, because He 
gives His strength to His followers. The nearer you are to 
this strength, the stronger you will be. 

Sometimes, while we follow Him, our adversaries say to 
us: 'Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come.' 4 Let us 
not grow weary of following Him and let us not be turned 
aside by meeting with a crafty question. It was said to the 
Prophet when he was being sent to prison and cast into a 
pit of mire: 'Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come.' 
But he followed it the more and therefore reached the goal 
and received the crown, because he was not weary following 
Jesus: 'There is no weariness in Jacob nor will sorrow be 
seen in Israel/ 5 

Farewell, and love us, for we love as a parent one who 
loves us. 



1 Undated; this may be Pope Siricius, to whom the joint letter of several 
bishops was directed after the Synod of Milan. 

2 Jer. 17.16. 

3 Matt 11.28. 

4 Jer. 17.15. 

5 Num. 23.21 (Septuagint) . 



152 SAINT AMBROSE 

31. Ambrose to Siricius 1 

When Priscus came he who is my friend and of the same 
age as I am you gave him a letter for me. Now that he is 
returning, I am also replying as I should for duty's and love's 
sake. By this service he has enriched us both, bringing me 
your letter and you mine. May the recompense of this be 
the attainment of an increase of grace. 

Farewell, brother, and love us, because we love you. 

32. Ambrose to Syagrius 1 

You have intimated in your letter our need to be careful 
that the beloved people of Verona do not dispute our decision. 
I do not think that they will do so; such, certainly, is not 
their custom. There is no shred of doubt that, if they do 
dispute, it will be of an ordinary matter. If they are provoked 
to come here, let them return to you with their grievances 
settled, especially since we have reached our decision jointly 
with our brethren and fellow priests. People know that you 
had to make your judgment without the helping advice of 
any brother. Yet you made your decision before the trial 
with the result that a virgin, who had been highly esteemed 

1 Undated. 



1 Written to the Bishop of Verona regarding the case of a virgin 
Indicia, who was brought to trial at the instigation of Maximus, her 
brother-in-law, at whose home she lived a retired life, and subjected 
to an examination by a midwife in order to establish her innocence. 
For a complete study of the case, cf. F. Martroye, 'I/Affaire Indicia: 
une sentence de saint Ambroise,' Melanges Paul Fournier (Paris 1929) 
503-510. The firm attitude which Ambrose assumes in this case leads 
Palanque and others to date it later than 380, the traditional date. 
Mention of Nicensis, the tribune and notary who testified to a 
miracle of restored health by Ambrose (Vit, 9.44) , also leads to the 
assigning of this letter toward Ambrose's closing years. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 153 

by blessed Zeno and consecrated by his blessing, was many 
years later subjected to the danger of imprisonment, although 
she knew neither the author of the charge, nor the accuser, 
nor the avowed informer. Envy was stirred up against her 
by liars and heretics, as they choose, by degraded individuals 
seeking, because of their wickedness, avarice, and intem- 
perance, a liberty for their own wantonness, and, finally, by 
those who had been cast out and debarred from her home, 
wlp by their works of a different color concealed the pretense 
of their first appearance. 

You set up in your court accusers of the same sort and 
witnesses who did not dare make a charge or bind themselves 
with the informer's role. So you decided to judge the virgin 
by an examination, a virgin whom no one censured, no 
one brought to trial. Where is the formality of inquiry, 
where is there provision for such a trial? If we consult the 
state laws, they demand an accuser; if the Church laws, we 
find: On the word of two or three witnesses every word 
stands. 52 Take as witnesses those who were not enemies two 
or three days ago, so that men in anger may not desire to 
harm the accused or, being harmed themselves, wish for 
vengeance. 

The disposition of the witnesses needs to be unhampered, 
yet in such a way that the accuser may first come into the 
midst of the case. Those priests of the Jews 3 first put their 
hands on the head of Susanna and pronounced the accusa- 
tion, adding at the same time the weight of proof which the 
people unwisely accepted, for they had been led into error. 
But by a divine judgment through the Prophet, almighty 
God laid bare the true state of affairs and showed that the 
testimony was false. As a result, it became clear to all that 
those who failed to prove the accusation and to establish 

2 Matt. 18.16. 

5 Cf. Dan. 13.34-60. 



154 SAINT AMBROSE 

the proof wished to sow envy to the peril of the innocent, 
confident that, if ill-will assaulted the mind of the crowd, 
whose ears were filled beforehand, prejudice might enter into 
the examination of the truth. For, when unfounded rumor 
enters, it blocks the ears, seizes the mind, and, if proof be 
wanting, rumor is accepted in place of the real charge. 

For these reasons we examined into the accuser and 
determined that the instigator of the whole scene, Maximus, 
should get our full attention. But in his statement he 
abandoned the charge which he had formed with eagerness 
and had brought forward by word. However, he kept pressing 
with effect and followed up his demands with skilled elo- 
quence. At the same time he kept running away from his 
responsibility, for he lacked the substance of proof, knowing 
that he was at fault. Finally, after spreading rumors and 
even composing and sending letters, he sought to aggravate 
the ill-will toward the charge, but integrity was not to be 
oppressed and tricked. For, had the judgment had proof, 
an inspection would never have been demanded, 

I cannot imagine what he wants and how he will make the 
test while you believe that you must have recourse to the 
service of a midwife. Will it then become permissible to 
accuse all persons, and, when the accusations are without 
proof, will it be allowable to demand an inspection of the 
private parts, and will holy virgins always be handed over 
to sport of this sort, which is horribly shocking to the eye and 
ear? Even in your letter you attempt the utmost delicacy of 
expression. Can those matters which cannot sound in another's 
ears without loss of shame be tried in a virgin without 
embarrassment? 

You have located a cheap slave, a shameless home-born 
slave. How may you not misuse her shameless services and 
prostitute the other's modesty, especially since there is nothing 
more holy in a maiden than her sense of modesty? 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 155 

Does one not seek out a holy maiden, provided only that 
her modesty remains uninjured? The virgin of the Lord is 
weighed on her own scales in giving proof of herself and 
needs no borrowed dowry to prove herself a virgin. And no 
inspection of hidden and secret parts, but modesty, evident 
to all, gives proof of her integrity. She does not please God 
unless the soberness of her manner sets approval upon her. 
She is not approved by the Lord if she needs the testimony 
of a midwife, which is usually secured at a price. Does she 
appear to you to abound in fidelity if she can be bought and 
deceived, so that she excuses the guilty, covers up crime, or 
does not know and cannot detect disgrace? 

Nor do I consider that statement of your letter a just one, 
namely, that unless she is inspected her integrity is imperiled 
and she will be disquieted by uncertainty regarding herself. 
. Have all those who were not inspected put peril in the path 
of their modesty? Are those about to marry to be inspected 
beforehand so that they may marry with greater approval? 
Are those about to take the veil to be first subjected to a 
handling of this sort? For they are not visited but handled, 
and according to your opinion one unapproved is more 
lawfully inspected than a consecrated person. 

What of the fact that medical experts say that the trust- 
worthiness of an inspection is not clearly understood and 
this has been the opinion of older doctors of medicine? We 
know from former experience that between midwives a 
difference arises and a question is raised with the result that 
there is more doubt regarding the one who has given herself 
over to an inspection than of one who has not. In fact, we 
found this to be so in a recent case when a slave girl from 
Altinum, having been inspected and charged with wrong, 
later at Milan not by my command but by that of Nicensis, 
a tribune and a notary at the wish of her master and patron, 
was visited by one of the most skillful and wealthy women of 



156 SAINT AMBROSE 

this profession. And although these qualifications were found 
in her, so that neither the midwife's poverty made her trust- 
worthiness suspect nor lack of training made her Ignorant, 
a question still remains. 

What advantage was it for her to be inspected when she 
still is under a cloud of disapproval? For, as each person 
wished, he asserted that the woman physician was either 
ignorant or had been bribed. Thus, the harm of undergoing 
inspection is without effect. What will be done next? Shall 
a girl be examined as often as someone appears who does 
not trust her? If she ever refuses to be visited, she will, accord- 
ing to your assertion, confess her crime. And it is easier to 
refute what one never did than what one did. The midwives 
will be at odds, fearing that some favor once granted will 
not be granted again. She will be only one of several, although 
even in large cities this practice of doctoring is found among 
few women. She will, I say, be either bad-willed or unskilled, 
whom the barriers of modesty leave unpracticed and through 
lack of skill she will put a mark on unblemished modesty. 
You see into what danger you bring a maiden's profession 
when you decide to have recourse to a midwife, so that now 
she is not only imperiled by the loss of her sense of modesty 
but also by the uncertainty of the midwife. 

Let us now consider just what is the duty of a midwife, 
for we read of midwives even in the Old Testament, but 
not of inspectresses. They came to women in labor, not to 
virgins; they came to receive the child, not to put modesty 
to the test. They are called midwives that they may stand 
midway in pain, or at least that the child may not fall to 
the ground when the walls of the uterus are relaxed. In a 
second and a third place in Scripture we find midwives on 
hand, always for a birth, not for an inspection first of all, 
when Rachel was in labor, 4 then when Thomar was giving 



4 Cf. Gen. 35.16. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 157 

birth, 5 and third when Pharao ordered the killing of all the 
male Hebrews by the midwives, 6 the time when they answered 
that the Hebrew women did not give birth in the manner 
of the Egyptians but were delivered before the midwives 
reached them. The reason mentioned above proved advan- 
tageous for the salvation of the Hebrews; for others it proved 
damaging to their reliance on midwives who knew how to 
lie for their own safety and to deceive for an excuse. 

Why should we take suspect and doubtful measures when 
there are greater documents and proofs for testing the truth, 
where the marks are clearer that modesty has been violated? 
What is more public than harm done to modesty and the 
deflowering of virginity? Surely, nothing so proclaims itself 
as does the loss of chastity. The belly swells, the burden of 
the fetus makes the person's gait heavy to omit other 
signs through which it is betrayed although the knowledge is 
kept secret. 

Perhaps, on a pretext of sterility, some can cover up vice, 
but when the child is delivered and disposed of or slain 
(when ill-will rather than proof suggests this), and when 
this is circulated in the ears of all, if one has given birth, 
freedom from calumny is absolutely impossible. The virgin of 
whom we are speaking was, to be sure, at Verona; she had 
frequent visits from girls and women; she was always held 
in honor. Priests visited her because of her modesty, a mirror 
of dignity. How, then, could she have concealed a crime 
which would reveal itself by her appearance? How did she 
cover herself? How has she not tried to flee the gaze of 
women, the eyes of all who greeted her? How, when in 
labor, did she check her cries? The pain does not permit this, 
for even Scripture says that those pains which a woman has 

5 Cf. Gen. 38.27. 

6 Cf. Exod. 1.15-22. 



158 SAINT AMBROSE 

in labor are very great. 7 The day of the Lord comes suddenly, 
it says, and in an unexpected way like the pains of childbirth, 
which forestall all one's efforts to hide them. 8 

Evidence of these signs, which even women feel ashamed 
of, are of greater reliability. In fact, Elizabeth secluded 
herself for five months because, having been barren, she had 
conceived in her old age. 9 By these signs the very virginity 
of Mary was under suspicion to those ignorant of the 
mystery. And even Joseph, to whom the Virgin was espoused, 
held the signs in suspicion while he still did not know the 
mystery of the Lord taking flesh. 10 

Why, then, do we maintain that virgins should not be 
inspected? I do not consent to what I have never read; 
surely, I cannot believe it true. Yet, because we do many 
things for appearance's sake and not for the sake of truth, 
and through error we frequently make many assertions (for 
there are many persons who do not know how to act rightly 
except through fear of punishment), let us leave this task to 
those whom shame does not deter but fear of harm alone 
keeps from evil, those in whom there is no regard for modesty, 
no charm of chastity, but only fear of penalty. Let us leave 
this to slaves whose fear is to be caught rather than to have 
sinned. Far be it that a holy virgin should make the 
acquaintance of a midwife, for then there comes to rnind 
not an examination of modesty but delivery and the seeking 
of a remedy for pain. Let us leave this to those who have 
recourse to it when they have been pursued with insults, 
overwhelmed by witnesses, choked by arguments let them 
then present themselves for inspection when they are main- 
taining custody of their body, provided this can be detected 
in those in whom the charm of modesty and training in 

7 Cf. Gen. 3.16. 

8 Cf. Isa. 13.8,9. 

9 Cf. Luke 1.24. 
10 Cf. Matt. 1.18. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 159 

chastity is faltering. The case is going badly when the body 
has to be consulted for stronger proof than the mind. I 
prefer virginity made manifest by works of character rather 
than in the body's enclosure. 

Now, it is strange your writing that this was revealed to 
you by certain persons who never talked with you, and your 
believing that she should be under suspicion unless she has 
been visited [by a midwife]. You have seized upon a formula 
for coming to a decision, but what sort of persons are they 
who try to tell us priests what to do? But we have freed you 
from need of making a most serious decision, so that you do 
not have to follow up the prescribed formula. What difference 
will it be for us if we have not obeyed their wishes? 

I know that there are several persons there who are god- 
fearing. At times we have observed and learned that there 
are some who regret this calumny having been devised. 
Although they are very hostile, they still have not favored 
Maximus, because the virgin in question does not visit their 
homes or salute or solicit their women. What will happen? 
How shall we free her of this charge? It becomes a serious 
crime for a maiden to be within the secrecy of her own home, 
to be shut in her own chamber ! Yet the passage in Scripture 
reveals that Mary was found at home like this when the 
archangel Gabriel came to her. 11 Susanna withdrew inside 
to escape the crowd. 12 And when she bathed she had the 
orchard closed. What is more excellent (especially in a 
maiden whose private parts demand modesty) than this 
retirement? What is safer than retirement and what is more 
liberating to all one's actions? Such a maiden assumes the 
tasks of modesty, not of anxiety. I have discussed the cases 
of others; I must now answer your letter. 

I am surprised, my brother, that you were not the accuser, 

11 Cf. Luke 1.28. 

12 Cf, Dan. 13.7. 



160 SAINT AMBROSE 

for it is you who are making a great defense of Maximus. 
Yet, you have grieved with a parent's sorrow over the ill-will 
which has arisen from the rumor that spread abroad when 
that fellow was unable to deny that he was a hostile and 
opposing party to the lawsuit and, after the strife was already 
aroused, obtained charges against the holy virgin. Then, after 
he had built a wall and made separate entrances for his 
wife and the virgin, the association between blood sisters 
was rent, and in other ways, too, the girl had cause to 
regret that she had asked to live with her relatives in the 
country. How is that person not the accuser, who has 
already shown the feelings of an accuser, who has by his 
statement introduced the accusation, has filled your ears with 
cries, and having brought in persons 13 who bear witness to 
the crime, now demands an investigation. 

You argued you could not deny that you had written to 
Indicia, for Maxirnus, on the advice of others or through 
personal grievances, had made a very serious charge. This 
letter alone is proof enough of the charge. Yet I have thought 
I should not press you regarding the letter you sent to me, 
although I have noticed that the one you gave the girl was 
different from that which you wrote to me. And since your 
letters were not consistent, I decided to consult you, not 
blame you. What gain could the testimony expect from the 
fact that it differed from what you wrote to me, namely, 
that she had been charged with a heinpus crime? Is it to 
imply that a child was said to have been delivered and 
buried? Almost as though you would write this to Indicia 
and not to me ! When she heard in your letter that Maximus 
was being introduced for the accusation, she produced your 
letter in which she proved that he was the instigator of the 

13 testes auditionesi witnesses from hearsay, not eye-witnesses. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 161 

charge. She had not read those given to me nor did she 
know what they contained. 

I have been horrified from the first at the calumny, for 
I realized that no verdict was intended, but that they wanted 
harm done to a girl, demanding the inspection and visitation 
of a maiden and not removing a charge of any sort. Who 
would not realize that a case fraudently framed from the 
first was to remain inconsistent and not in conformity with 
itself? Cheap women went to the monastery, and it reached 
the ears of a new neighbor, Maximus. He informed the 
bishop; those who were said to have maintained this were 
gone and had been forced to flight, as was patent to us. 
Those who said that they had heard the rumor were called 
to the church, whereupon they betrayed Renatus and 
Leontius, 14 those two men of iniquity whom Jezabel op- 
posed, 15 Daniel convicted, 16 and the Jewish people suborned, 
so that by false testimony they assailed the very author of 
their life. Yet, at the same time as they devised the crime 
and set out (to omit no details) according to Leontius, 
they had joined Maximus and those others who spread the 
rumor. Yet, when they stood in my court and I questioned 
them on the history of the case from the beginning, they 
related different discordant details, being divided not by 
space but by falsehood. 

Then, when they did not agree with one another and had 
removed Mercurius and Lea, persons of the cheapest sort 
and of detestable character, and she had fled to Teudule, 
not knowing the charge thrown at her how before she had 
been alone on the couch of Renatus another slave also 



14 The two who originated the charge which Maximus brought to 
Bishop Syagrius, 

15 Cf. 3 Kings 21.10. 

16 Cf. Dan. 13.45-61. 



162 SAINT AMBROSE 

appeared to say that she was tainted with lewdness with this 
same Renatus. On the very day set for the investigation they 
went to the bishop's court although on the day previous 
this same Renatus had suddenly asserted that they would 
leave. 

For these reasons I set a day for the trial, but when no 
one made an accusation and no witness came forward, I 
intimated to my holy sister that you were asking the in- 
spection and visitation of the aforementioned virgin in her 
presence. She piously objected to the inspection and said in 
defense of the virgin that she had observed in Indicia 
nothing except a maidenly modesty and holiness. She had 
lived at Rome in our house when I was not there, she had 
been given to no frequenting of sinfulness, and she hoped 
that with her a share in the kingdom of God was being 
saved for her by the Lord Jesus. 

I also mentioned our daughter Paterna, for she never 
leaves her, her love being proof of her life. What she says 
without oath must be compared to a pledge of faith. Calling 
God to witness, she maintained that the virgin was a 
stranger to the crime for which she was being sought out, 
nor did anything in her conduct show that she was failing to 
live a good life. 

We also questioned a free-born nurse, whose status, in no 
way harmed or degenerate, would permit the liberty of 
speaking the truth, and whose faith and age were a guarantee 
to the truth, while her capacity as a nurse implied knowledge 
of what is secret. She also said that she had seen nothing 
unbecoming in the maiden, no action seemed reprehensible 
to her, even had she been her parent. 

Moved by these considerations, we declared that Indicia 
had never failed in her duties as a virgin. The sentence so 
involved Maximus and Renatus and Leontius that hope of 
their return [to the sacraments] was held out only for 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 163 

Maximus if he corrected his error; and Renatus and Leontius 
remained excommunicated unless, perhaps, proving their 
remorse and daily deploring their deed, they showed them- 
selves worthy of mercy. 17 

Farewell, brother, and love us, because we love you. 



33. Ambrose to Syagrius (c. 380) 

After you found out what transpired in our court, you 
kept to yourself; therefore, I now summon, as it were, a 
part of my own soul, for I have a friendly yet sorrowful 
complaint against you for the outrage done to chastity. Was 
it necessary for an unsurpassed, unheard-of case of virginity 
to be subjected to a sentence? Could it not have been 
dismissed? In other words, unless with injury to herself she 
had been handed over from honored modesty to an indecent 
surrender of her body, though she offered strong proof 
regarding herself, she would be exposed to ridicule and 
marked out as a wanton individual ! You have tendered this 
privilege to virginity, honor of a sort, to which they are 
pleased to be summoned and invited who plan to recover 
this boon ! Thus, they lose the liberty of a common reputation, 
nor do they protect themselves by the statutes of sacred or 
public law; they may not ask their accuser, or oppose an 
informer, but may only put on shamelessness and expose 
themselves to harm. 

Our ancestors did not think chastity so to be despised; 
rather, they showed it such reverence that they would wage 
war on violators of modesty. In fact, so great was their 
desire for revenge that all the tribe of Benjamin would 

17 Roman law punished calumny with exile or banishment. Ambrose 
administered a spiritual penalty- excommunication. 



164 SAINT AMBROSE 

have been destroyed 1 unless the 600 who remained out of 
the war had been protected by a natural hill. This is the 
expression found in the account of the sacred lesson whose 
tenor it is profitable to consider. 

A Levite, 2 more courageous than wealthy, lived in the 
region of Mount Ephrem, for to this tribe was allotted a 
landed possession far removed, in place of the right of 
inheritance. He took a wife for himself from the tribe of 
Bethlehem of Juda. And as they felt deeply the first attraction 
of their love, he burned with unbounded love for his wife. 
But her ways were different, and he was more and more 
desirous of having her, and inwardly seethed with desire. Yet, 
because there was a difference in their ages, and because he 
felt, either through the lightness or her love or the violence of 
his pain, that she did not consider him of equal worth with 
herself, he used to chide her. Frequent quarreling followed, 
and the offended wife gave back the keys of the house and 
went home. 

Her husband, overwhelmed with love and having nothing 
else to hope for, when he saw the fourth month slip by, 
went to her, trusting that the young girl's heart would be 
softened on the advice of her parents. His father-in-law met 
him at the door and brought him into the house. He 
reconciled his daughter and, in order that he might send 
them away more joyous, kept them three days while he 
prepared a sort of nuptial banquet. Although the man 
wanted to depart, he kept him also a fourth day, offering 
him excuses of civility, devising delays. In his desire to add 
a fifth day as well, he found new reasons for delaying 
them, while the husband, unwilling to thwart the father's 
affection of its desire to keep his daughter, though he was at 
last promised an opportunity for setting forth, postponed it 

1 Cf. Judges 20.1-48. 

2 Cf. Judges 19. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 165 

to midday so that they would start out well fortified with 
food. Even after dinner, the father wished to find some 
delay, saying that evening was now approching. At last he 
acquiesced, though reluctantly, to the entreaties of his son- 
in-law. 

He set out on his jouney in happy spirits because he had 
recovered his dearly beloved wife. One servant was with him, 
and as day was already declining they sped on their way 
with swift steps. The woman rode on an ass; her husband 
felt no weariness, taking joy in his desire and lightening his 
journey with talk at times with the woman, at times with 
the slave. When at length they neared Jerusalem, about 
thirty stades 3 away, a place inhabited then by Jebusites, the 
servant boy suggested that they turn into the city, especially 
since night makes even safe places suspect and one must 
guard against the uncertainties of darkness, and particulary 
since the inhabitants of this locality were not of the children 
of Israel. They should beware lest treachery be done with 
hostile design, for the night's darkness is opportune enough 
for any tricksters to perpetrate evil. But his master did not 
care for the servant's idea of seeking lodging among foreigners, 
since Gaba and Rama, cities of Benjamin, were not far 
distant. His strong will overrode the servant's suggestion, as 
though advice takes its value from one's condition [of birth] 
rather than that through advice a lowly condition may be 
raised. The sun was now setting and he agreed reluctantly 
to go into the city [Gaba], for he was overtaken by 
evening. 

The Gabanites lived there, unfriendly, harsh, unbearable 
people, who could stand anything but to receive people 
hospitably. Indeed, it would have been much more suitable 
had the Levite not sought hospitality in Gaba. That his 
treatment be utterly offensive, he found on entering the city 

3 About four miles. 



1 66 SAINT AMBROSE 

that there was no inn. And when he sat on the road imploring 
the mercy of these strangers, an old man from the fields 
happened to stumble on him, for evening had compelled him 
to leave his work in the fields at night. Seeing him, he asked 
where he was from and where he was going. He answered: 
'I came from Bethlehem of Juda, I am going to Mount 
Ephrem, and my wife is here with me. But I have learned 
that there is no one here to give hospitality and provide us 
a chance to rest. 5 He needed no food or drink for himself 
nor food for his flock, but the hospitality of shelter was 
refused them. They had everything; only a bare lodging was 
needed. To this the old man kindly and calmly said: 
Teace to you ! Come in as my guest and fellow citizen, for 
I am also from the region of Mount Ephrem and here is a 
lodging place; someone who lived here a long time laid its 
foundations/ Having received them into his home, he atten- 
tively and carefully provided for his guests and entertained 
them. 

The old man kept urging them to be glad and kept inviting 
them to drink more wine so that they would forget their 
cares, when all of a sudden they were surrounded by young 
men of Gaba, given to lust, all lacking esteem for 4 moderation. 
The woman's beauty had bewitched them and thrown them 
into utter folly. They were captivated by her beauty and 
because of the old man's age and lack of help, with high 
hope of getting her, they demanded the woman and kept 
pounding at the door. 

The old man, going out, begged them not to defile his 
guest's stay with a base crime, contemplating violation of a 
privilege reverenced even by savage nations of barbarous 
peoples; they could not insultingly mistreat a fellow tribes- 
man of his, legitimately born, a married man, without 
causing wrath in their heavenly judge. When he saw that 

4 Reading ad, not ac. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 167 

he was making little headway, he added that he had a 
maiden daughter and he offered her to them, with great 
sorrow, since he was her parent, but with less damage to the 
favor he owed his guest. He considered a public crime more 
tolerable than private disgrace. Driven by a wave of fury 
and inflamed by the incentive of lust, they desired the more 
the beauty of the young woman the more she was denied 
them. Deprived of all righteousness, they mocked his fair 
words, considering the old man's daughter an object of 
contempt in that she was offered with less feeling of ill-will 
toward the crime. 

Then, when pious entreaties availed nothing and the aged 
hands were hopelessly extended in vain, the woman was 
seized and all that night was subjected to violence. When 
day brought an end to the outrage, she went back to the 
door of their lodging, where she would not ask to see her 
husband, whom she thought she must now forego, ashamed 
at her pitiable condition. Yet, to show her love for her 
husband, she who had lost her chastity lay down at the door 
of the lodging, and there in pitiable circumstance came an 
end to her disgrace. The Levite, coming out, found her 
lying there and thought that she dared not lift her head for 
shame.* He began comforting her, since she had succumbed 
to such injury not willingly but unwillingly. He bade her 
rise and go home with him. Then, as no answer came, he 
called her loudly as though to rouse her from sleep. 

When he realized that she was dead, he lifted her onto 
the mule and brought her home; then, dividing her limbs 
into twelve parts, he sent one to each of the tribes of Israel. 
In great distress over this, 5 all the people met at Maspha, 
and there, learning of the abominable deed from the Levite, 
desired to go to war, deciding that it was unlawful for anyone 
to go to his tent until vengeance was taken on the authors 

5 CL Judges 20, wkh many modifications. 



168 SAINT AMBROSE 

of this deed. With courage they rushed into battle, but the 
advice of wiser men changed their purpose not to engage the 
citizens in war, but to put the charge to the test first with 
words and to determine the conditions for the guilty. Nor 
did it seem fair that the cost of a few men's crimes should 
fall on all, and that the private sins of young men should 
make the safety of the citizenry fall. So they sent men to 
demand that the Gabanites give up those guilty of this 
crime, and, if they did not do so, let them know that to have 
defended such a crime was not less than to have committed it. 

A proud retort was made and plans for peace were 
changed to war. In the first and second encounters, when 
many were harmed by a few, the Israelites considered 
yielding, since the battles were so unfavorable. There were 
400,000 men warring against 25,000 of the tribe of Ben- 
jamin, and they strove with 700 Gabanites experienced in 
war. When two battles were unfavorable, Israel with eager 
spirit did not lose hope of victory nor of vengeance for the 
hope they had built up. 

Superior in cause and number they yet fell back worsted 
in the battle's outcome, and, feeling that God was offended, 
they tried with fasting and much weeping to gain a re- 
conciliation of heaven's favor. Begging the Lord's peace, 
they returned more boldly to war and they to whom prayer 
had given courage and who had entertained much hope 
were now a^le to do what they planned. On a pretext of 
withdrawing their front lines, setting ambushes at night in 
the rear of the city, where a segment of the enemy was 
located, they followed as some retired and thus were pro- 
vided with an opportunity for invading the unprotected city. 
Fires were quickly set and flared up while raging flames and 
waves of heat revealed the sight of the taken city. Their 
spirits broken, they faced the enemy. The men of Benjamin 
who thought they were shut in and surrounded, even before 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 169 

they were invaded from the rear, began scattering and 
fleeing to the desert, while Israel pressed after with doubled 
force and pursued them as they wandered in rout. 

About 25,000 were slain, therefore, that is, almost all the 
men of Benjamin except 600 who seized a fortification on a 
rough cliff and by virtue of its situation and with the help of 
nature and partly through fear were a terror to their victors. 
Success advises caution; in adversity, revenge is esteemed 
rather than victory. Not even a minority of the women stayed 
clear of that struggle, but all the women of the tribe of 
Benjamin, along with boys and girls of every age, were wiped 
out by sword or fire, and an oath was taken that no one 
would give his daughter to a man of that tribe in marriage, 
so that all chance of repairing the name was abolished. 

The end of the war was also the end of their wrath, 6 and 
anger turned to sorrow. Then, putting off their armor, the 
men of Israel met together and wept much and celebrated a 
fast, grieving that one tribe of their brethren had perished 
and a strong band of people had been wiped out. Rightly 
had they warred against the authors of the crime because of 
the cost of the sin, but unhappily had the people turned 
against their own flesh and each was afflicted with civil war. 
The outpouring of tears moved their minds to compassion 
and stirred their feelings; the plan conceived in anger was 
gone. Sending legates to the 600 men of Benjamin, who for 
four months guarded themselves on the top of sheer rocks 
and by the desert's barrenness, which was dangerous for a 
mass of attackers, they lamented their common hardship in 
losing their fellow tribesmen, relatives, and allies. Yet the 
hope of renewing the tribe was not utterly destroyed and 
they consulted together how they might agree on a pledge 
of faith and one tribe not perish, severed from the body. 

After setting up an altar they offered a sacrifice of recon- 

6 Cf. Judges 21. 



170 SAINT AMBROSE 

dilation and peace. But, since the men of Jabes Galaad 
were obliged to the penalty and oath (for all Israel had bound 
herself with an oath that, if anyone did not join her in 
punishing the crime, he should die the death), 12,000 
warriors had been sent, but that all the men and women be 
destroyed by the sword they spared only young maidens who 
had not known the bed of a man. Thus, all Jabes Galaad was 
killed and only 400 maidens remained. Israel took them and 
decided that the men of Benjamin should put away fear of 
war and wed the innocent girls close to them in age and 
honor. The men had a stronger reason, in that none of them 
had warred against them and they owed them the favor of 
charity, since through them they had been snatched from 
death. In this way was a marriage union sought for the 400 
youths. 

Yet, because 200 remained without wives, we learn that 
they also took counsel for them without violating their oaths. 
Yearly, a festival was held in Silo. There maidens used to 
dance or lead choruses for the honor of religion. Some went 
ahead of the matrons, and filled the whole road with their 
traveling troop. One of the elders said: fi lf the two hundred 
men of the tribe of Benjamin would keep watch from the 
vineyard until the troop of women comes out, and coming 
from the vineyard each one would claim as wife whom he 
chances upon, there would be no treachery, for the people 
favor remedying the continuation of the tribe, but because 
of their oath they are unable to ask for marriage for their 
daughters. Nor would it seem a violation of their oath if 
they did not think to stop them, for by the oath no need of 
forcing or stopping seems imposed: they ought to look 
to their advantage without fear. But if the girls' parents 
demand punishment, by entreaty and by reminding them of 
the fault of unwilling custody of them, they will gainsay 
them, aad when they know that the men of Benjamin are 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 171 

unmarried they will themselves come forth with their 
daughters. The tribe is now worthy not of penalty but of 
mercy. Harsh enough has been their treatment and part of 
the body has been vanquished. Too immoderately did the 
people desire to wipe out the continuation of the family, to 
kill some of theirs. God is not pleased that a tribe of people 
perish, nor that they act so bitterly over one woman.' 

The Israelites approved the plan; the men of Benjamin 
went out and hid in the vineyard at a favorable spot and at 
a favorable moment swooped down upon the roads filled 
with crowds of women. The solemnizing of their religion 
furnished them a nuptial festival. Daughters were torn from 
the embrace of fathers, as though being given to the band of 
youths by their parents, and you would think each had 
agreed not to be drawn from her mother's arms but to 
leave them. Thus did the tribe of Benjamin, which had 
almost been annihilated and destroyed, shortly flourish, 
proving how the punishment of shamelessness and revenge 
for injured chastity mean great harm to the proud. 

Scripture proves this not only here, but in many places. 
In Genesis, too, we read that Pharao, king of Egypt, was 
scourged with many torments for having loved Sara, although 
he did not know she was another's wife. 7 

It is the Lord's will to guard chastity; how much more, 
to defend purity! Hence, no harm ought to be inflicted 
upon holy virgins, for those who do not marry and men who 
do not take to wife are accounted as the angels of God in 
heaven. 8 So, let us not bring bodily insult to heavenly grace, 
since God is powerful whom no transgression escapes, who 
is moved by a harsh and heavy insult to consecrated virginity, 
a gift reserved to Him. 

Farewell, brother, and love us, because we love you. 

7 C. Gen. 20.2-18. 

8 Cf. Luke 20.36. 



172 SAINT AMBROSE 

34. Ambrose to Theophilus (392) 

Evagrius 1 has no ground for complaint; Flavian 3 has 
reason to fear, and so avoids the trial Let our brethren 
pardon our righteous grief; because of these men the whole 
world is disturbed, yet they do not share our sorrow. Let 
them at least calmly allow themselves to be censured by 
those whom they have seen harassed for a long time by their 
obstinacy. Because these two have refused to agree on 
anything which pertains to the peace of Christ, serious 
discord has arisen and spread throughout the world. 

To this shipwreck of holy peace the holy Synod of Capua 
had at last offered a haven of tranquility, namely, that 
communion should be offered to all those in the East who 
profess the Catholic faith, and that the trial of these two 
men should be decided by your Holiness at a session of our 
brethren and fellow bishops of Egypt. We felt that your 
judgment would be a true one, since you have embraced 
the communion of neither party and thus would be inclined 
to favor neither side. 

When we had begun to hope that these most equitable 
decrees of the synod had provided a solution and put an end 
to discord, your Holiness wrote to say that our brother 
Flavian had again sought help from entreaties and from the 
support of imperial rescripts. 3 The toil of so many bishops 
has been spent in vain; we must have recourse again to civil 
tribunals, to imperial rescripts; once more must they [bishops] 
cross the seas; once more, though weak in body, must they 
exchange their native land for foreign soil; once more must 

1 Evagrius was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by Paulinas when the 
latter was on his deathhed. 

2 Flavian, a rival claimant for the see of Antioch, was in the favor of 
the emperor for his success in quieting the insurrection of the people 
of Antioch in 387. He pleaded ill health when summoned to Capua. 
Cf. Theodoret, H. E. 5.23. 

3 An imperial order had undone the work of the Synod of Capua. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 173 

holy altars be abandoned that we may travel to distant 
places; once more a crowd of impoverished bishops, whose 
poverty was not burdensome before but who now need 
money for travel, will be forced to bewail their poor state 
or at least to use for their journey what might have fed the 
poor. 

Flavian alone, exempt from the laws, as it appears to him, 
does not attend when we others all assemble. The money- 
lender and borrower meet each other; they cannot meet 
him. Flavian, in keeping with his own wishes, alone shuns 
the fellowship of bishops and will not appear in person at 
the bidding of the emperor or the summons of the bishops. 

Moved as we are by this sorrow, we still do not grant 
that our brother Evagrius has evidence of a good case, 
thinking he is more in the right because Flavian avoids him, 
or concluding that his opponent is in no better situation than 
himself, each of them relying more on the defects of the 
other's ordination than on the validity of his own. 

Yet we call them to a better course so that we prefer them 
to be defended by their own merits rather than by the 
other's defects. Since you have implied in your letter that 
some point can be found whereby the brother's discord will 
be removed, and since the holy synod has given the right of 
trial to your Unanimity and our fellow bishops of Egypt, it 
is fitting that you again summon our brother Flavian so 
that, if he continues to choose not to appear, you may, 
without prejudice to the decrees of the Council of Nicaea 
and the statutes of the Synod of Capua, so provide for the 
preservation of general peace that we may not seem to tear 
down what has been built up : Tor if I destroy what I have 
built, I make myself a sinner, and if I reconstruct the things 
that I have destroyed.' 4 Only let the grace of the peace we 
have obtained be preserved by all, and the refusal of the one 

4 Gal. 2.18. 



174 SAINT AMBROSE 

party to appear will not cause all our actions to be in vain. 
We think, too, that you should consult our holy brother, 
Bishop of the Church at Rome, for we presume that what 
you determine will in no wise displease him. As the decision 
will be of great advantage, so also will the security of peace 
and harmony, provided the decision made by your judgment 
is such that it will not bring discord to our communion. And 
we, upon receiving the statutes of your decrees and learning 
that the Church at Rome undoubtedly approves what has 
been done, shall gladly partake of the good results of this 
trial 

35. Ambrose to Vigilius (385) 

You have asked me what should be the chief points of 
your teaching now that you are newly ordained to the office 
of bishop. Because you have built up your spirit so fittingly 
you have been deemed worthy of this great office; it is now 
your duty to build up others. 

Realize, first of all, that you have been entrusted with 
the Church of the Lord, and therefore you must prevent any 
scandal from intruding and causing her body to become 
common by contamination with heathens. For this reason, 
Scripture says to you: 'Do not marry any Chanaanite 
woman but go into Mesopotamia, to- the house of Bathuel, 
that is, the house of wisdom, and choose there a wife for 
you. 31 Mesopotamia is a region in the East bounded by the 
two largest rivers in that area, the Euphrates and the Tigris, 
which have their rise in Armenia and flow by different 
courses into the Red Sea. Now, the Church is signified by the 
word Mesopotamia, for she waters the minds of the faithful 

1 Gen. 28,1,2. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 175 

with the great streams of wisdom and justice, pouring on 
them the grace of holy baptism, typified by the Red Sea, 
and washing away sin. Teach the people, therefore, to seek 
ties of marriage not with strangers but from the households 
of Christians. 

Let no one defraud a hireling of his wages, because we, 
too, are hired men of God, hoping for the reward of our 
labors from Him. 2 You, too [you must say], O merchant, 
whoever you are, are refusing the hireling the wages in 
money, a cheap and passing thing. But to you the reward 
of heavenly promises will be refused, as the Law says: 
'Thou shalt not refuse the hire of the hireling.' 3 

Do not lend your money for interest, since Scripture says 
that he who does not lend his money at usury will dwell in 
the tabernacle of God, 4 because one who takes the gain of 
usury is overthrown. Therefore, if a Christian man has 
money, let him lend it as if he were not to receive it back, 
or at least only to receive the principal which he lent. By so 
doing he receives no small profit of grace. Otherwise his 
actions would be deception, not assistance. For, what is 
more cruel than to lend money to one who has none and 
then to exact double the amount? If one cannot pay the 
simple amount, how will he pay double? 

Let us take Tobias as an example, for until the end of his 
life he never asked back the money which he had lent, 5 and 
then he did so more because he did not want to cheat his 
heir than to exact and recover the money which he had 
lent out. Nations have often failed because of usury and this 
has been the cause of public calamity. So it is especially up 

2 Cf. Lev. 19.13. 

3 Cf. Deut. 24.14. 

4 Cf. Ps. 14.5. 

5 Cf. Tob. 4.21. 



1 76 SAINT AMBROSE 

to us bishops to root out these vices which seem to entangle 
most men. 

Teach them to welcome strangers willingly rather than to 
do what they ought merely from necessity. Thus, in offering 
hospitality they will not reveal an inhospitable state of mind 
and in the very giving of welcome to a guest spoil their 
favor by wrong-doing. Rather, let hospitality be fostered by 
the practice of social duties and by services of kindness. 
Rich gifts are not asked of you, but a willing performance 
of duty, full of peace and harmonious agreement. A dinner 
of lierbs is better with friendship and love than a banquet 
adorned with choice victuals, if sentiments of love are not 
there. We read that nations have been destroyed with utter 
loss because they violated the oath of hospitality, 6 and 
dreadful wars have arisen because of lust. 7 

There is hardly anything more deadly than being married 
to one who is a stranger to the faith, where the passions of 
lust and dissension and the evils of sacrilege are inflamed. 
Since the marriage ceremony ought to be sanctified by the 
priestly veiling and blessing, how can that be called a marriage 
ceremony where there is no agreement in faith? Since 
spouses should pray in common, how can there be love of 
their common wedlock between those differing in religion? 
Many have betrayed their faith when lured by women's 
charms, as did the people of the patriarchs at Beelphegor. 
This is why Phineas lost his sword and killed the Hebrew 
and the Madianite woman, 8 and soothed God's wrath so 
that all of the people would not be destroyed. 

Why should I mention many examples? Of the many, I 
shall set forth one, and by the mention of this one it may be 
clear how dangerous it is to marry a woman who is a 

6 Cf Judges 20.44; cf. Letter 33, above. 

7 Cf. Gen. 34.25. 

8 Cf. Num. 25.8. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 177 

stranger [to the faith]. Who more than the Nazarite, 
Samson, ever was mighter and from the cradle more endowed 
with strength by the Spirit of God? Yet he was betrayed by 
a woman and because of her he was unable to stay in God's 
good favor. 9 I shall tell you the events of his birth and his 
entire life, arranging it in the manner of a story, not word 
for word, but in substance, according to the account of the 
sacred book which goes as follows: 

For many years the Philistines held the Hebrews in 
subjection after their surrender, for they had lost the prestige 
of faith by which their fathers had gained victory. Yet the 
mark of their election and the ties of their heritage had not 
been entirely obliterated by their Creator. But, because they 
were often puffed up by success, He delivered them for the 
most part into the power of the enemy, so that with manly 
dignity they would seek from heaven the remedy of their 
ills. We submit to God at a time when we are overwhelmed 
by other reverses; success puffs up the mind. This is proved 
not only in other matters but especially in that change of 
fortune by which success returned again from the Philistines 
to the Hebrews. 

When the spirit of the Hebrews had been so crushed by 
long and injurious subjection that no one with manly vigor 
dared to encourage them to freedom, there arose in their 
behalf a great hero, Samson, whose destiny was ordained by 
God's words. He was not numbered with the many, but 
outstanding among the few; he was without question easily 
reckoned as surpassing all in bodily strength. We must regard 
him with great admiration from the very beginning, not 
because he gave great evidence of temperance and sobriety 
from boyhood by abstaining from wine, nor because as a 
Nazarite he was ever faithful to guard his sacred trust, with 
locks unshorn, but because from his youth a period of soft- 

9 Cf. Judges 16.18-21. 



178 SAINT AMBROSE 

ness in others, but truly remarkable in him he worked amaz- 
ing deeds of strength, perfect beyond the measure of human 
nature. By his deeds he soon gained credence for that divine 
prophecy. For no slight cause had such great graces 
preceded him that an angel came down to foretell to his 
parents his unexpected birth, the leadership he would hold, 
and the protection he would give his people who had 
been tormented so long by the oppressive rule of the 
Philistines. 

His godfearing father was of the tribe of Dan, 10 of no 
mean station in life, pre-eminent among others. His mother, 
a barren woman, was not unfruitful in the virtues of the 
soul. She was worthy to receive into the dwelling of her soul 
the vision of an angel, whose command she obeyed and 
whose words she fulfilled. She did not permit herself to know 
even the secrets of God without her husband's sharing of 
them; she told him that a man of God had appeared to her, 
of wondrous beauty, bringing her a prophecy that a child 
would be born. Because she trusted his promises she shared 
with her husband her trust in these heavenly pledges. When 
he learned them, he devoutly begged God in prayer that 
he might also be granted the favor of a vision, saying: 
C O Lord, let thy angel come to me.' 11 

I do not think, as a certain author has supposed, 12 that he 
did this out of jealousy for his wife, who was remarkable 
for her beauty, but rather because he was moved by a 
desire for a favor from heaven and wished to share the 
benefit of the heavenly vision. One depraved by vices of the 
soul would not have found such favor with the Lord that an 
angel would return to his house, give the admonition which 
the fulfilling of the prophecy entailed, be suddenly raised in 

10 Cf. Judges 13.2-23. 

11 Judges 13.8. 

12 Joseph us, Antiq. 5.8.3. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 179 

the form of a glowing flame, and depart. This vision, which 
so frightened the husband, the wife interpreted more 
auspiciously, turning it to joy and removing his anxiety. She 
said that to see God was a proof of favor, not of ill-will. 

Samson, then graced by such favors from heaven, turned 
his thoughts to marriage as soon as he reached manhood, 
whether because he detested in his mind the free and familiar 
manner of deceitful lust in the young, or because he was 
seeking a reason for loosing from the necks of his people 
the power and harsh tyranny of the Philistines. Going 
down, therefore, to Thamnatha 13 (this is the name of a 
city in that country which then was inhabited by the 
Philistines), he saw a maiden of pleasing appearance and 
beautiful countenance. He asked his parents, who were 
guiding him on his way, to ask her in marriage for him. 
They did not realize that his purpose was so set that, if the 
Philistines refused her to him, he would become very angry, 
nor that they, if they gave their consent, would be bringing 
an end to the wrong treatment of the conquered. Since 
from intercourse a sense of equality and kindness grows 
apace, and, if offense is given, the desire for revenge becomes 
deeper, his parents thought that he should avoid her because 
she was a stranger. In vain did they try to change his 
purpose by lawful objections; finally, then, they gave their 
consent to the wishes of their son. 

Samson obtained his request and upon his return to visit 
his promised bride he turned off the road for a short while; 
there a lion came out of the woods to meet him, a truly 
fierce beast, because released from the forest. No comrade, 
no weapon was ready at hand; the shame of fleeing and an 
inner sense of power gave him courage. As the lion rushed 
upon him he caught it in his arms and killed it with his 
grasp, leaving it lying there beside the road on a heap of 

13 Cf. Judges 14.1. 



180 SAINT AMBROSE 

forest wood. The spot was thick with the grassy growth of 
fodder and planted, too, with vineyards. He felt sure that the 
spoils of a savage beast would be of little importance to his 
beloved spouse, because the times of such events [as marriage] 
are made charming not by savage trophies but by genteel 
joys and festal garlands. Later, upon his return along the same 
road, he stumbled upon a honeycomb in the lion's belly, 
and carried it off as a gift to his parents and the maiden, 
for such gifts suit a bride. After he had tasted the honey, 
he gave them the honeycomb to eat, but he did not disclose 
where it came from. 

By chance one day, during a nuptial feast, the young 
people at the banquet challenged one another to a game of 
question and answer. And while one caught up the other 
with spicy banter, as is the custom on such occasions, the 
contest, which had begun in fun, grew heated. Then Samson 
proposed the question to his fellow guests: 'Out of the eater 
came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweet- 
ness. 314 He promised as the reward for their wisdom that 
those who guessed it should have thirty shirts and the same 
number of coats, for that was the number of men present, 
but if they did not solve it they should pay a forfeit. 

Since they could not untie the knot and solve the riddle, 
they prevailed upon his bride, using repeated threats and 
constant entreaty, that she ask her husband for the answer 
to the question as a mark of his devotion in return for her 
love. Truly terrified in mind, or perhaps in the plaintive 
manner of a woman, she began her supposedly loving 
complaints, pretending that she was sorely grieved that her 
husband did not love her: she who was his life partner and 
confidant did not know her husband's secret and was treated 
like the rest of his friends and not entrusted with her hus- 

14 Judges 14.14. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 181 

band's secret. She even said: 'Thou hatest me and dost not 
love me whom until now you have deceived/ 15 

These and other remarks overcame him and, weakened 
by her womanly charms, he revealed to his beloved the 
riddle which he had proposed. She in turn revealed it to 
her countrymen. Seven days later, before sunset, which was 
the time agreed for the solving of the riddle, they gave the 
answer which they had learned and which they expressed 
thus: 'What is stronger than a lion? What is sweeter than 
honey?' And he answered that nothing is more treacherous 
than woman, saying: c lf you had not ploughed with my 
heifer, you had not found out my riddle.' 16 Immediately he 
went down to Ascalon, slew thirty men, stripped off their 
garments and gave them as the reward he had promised to 
those who had solved the riddle. 

Moreover, he did not live with the girl whose treachery he 
had learned, but, instead, returned home to his own country. 
But the maid, in fear and dread of the wrath of one so 
wronged, afraid lest his wrath be vented on her, agreed to 
marry another man, one whom Samson considered a friend 
of his, a bridal companion on his wedding day. Even 
though their union was offered as an excuse, she did not 
escape the peril of his hatred. 17 When this became known 
and he was denied an opportunity of going to his wife, for 
her father said that she had married someone else, but that 
he might, if he wished, marry her sister, sorely stung with 
wrong, he made plans to wreak public revenge in anger 
over his personal affront. He caught three hundred foxes 
and, at the end of summer when the grain was ripe in the 
fields, coupled them tail to tail and fastened torches between 

15 Judges 14.16. 

16 Judges 14.18. 

17 Cf. Judges 15.1. 



1 82 SAINT AMBROSE 

their tails, tying them with unbreakable knots. Then, to 
avenge the affront, he sent them into the standing corn 
fields which the Philistines had cut. The foxes, driven mad 
by the fire, spread the blaze wherever they ran and burned 
the corn stalks. Greatly disturbed by their loss, for their 
entire harvest had perished, the owners went and told their 
leaders. They dispatched men to the Thamnathite woman, 
who had given her troth to more than one husband, and 
also to her house and parents. They said that she was the 
cause of her own destruction and harm, but that it was 
not right for the husband who was wronged to avenge 
himself by injuring the whole people. 

Samson still did not content himself with this wrong 
against the Philistines, nor was he content with what he had 
done in revenge. He slaughtered them in a great orgy of 
bloodshed and many died by the sword. He then went to 
Elam to a stream in the desert. The rock there was a 
fortification belonging to the tribe of Juda. The Philistines, 
who did not dare attack him or to climb the steep and 
hazardous fortification, denounced the tribe of Juda and 
rose up, urging the tribe to battle. They saw that justice 
would be done otherwise, if the men, who were their 
subjects and paid tribute, seemed about to lose a rightful and 
fair treatment in public affairs just because of another's 
crime. In consulation, they demanded that they hand over 
the perpetrator of such a crime and on this condition they 
would be unharmed. 

The men of the tribe of Juda, hearing this stipulation, 
gathered 3,000 of their men and went up to him, maintaining 
that they were the subjects of the Philistines and had to 
obey them, not from choice but through fear of danger. They 
put the blame for their deed upon those who had the right 
to force them. Then he said: 'And what form of justice is 
it, O race of the sons of Abraham, that the wrong of first 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 183 

betrothing and then stealing my spouse should be my 
punishment, and that one may not avenge with impunity 
a wrong done to one's home? Are you stooping in sub- 
mission to little domestic slaves? Will you make yourselves 
agents of another's insolence and turn your own hands 
upon yourselves? If I must die for the sorrow which is 
understandably mine, I will gladly die at the hands of the 
Philistines. My home has been assailed, my wife has been 
harassed. If I may not live without their evil deeds, at least 
I may die without crimes being committed by my people. 
Have I not returned an injury which I received? Have I 
inflicted it? Consider whether the exchange was a fitting 
one. They complain of damage to their crops; I, the loss of 
my wife. Compare sheaves of wheat and the marital union. 
They have themselves seen proof of my pain, the injuries 
which they have avenged. See what service they consider 
you worthy of. They want the one put to death whom they 
thought should be avenged, whom they injured, and to 
whom they gave the weapon of revenge. If you bring my 
neck to bend to the proud, hand me over to the enemy, but 
do not yourselves kill me. I do not shrink from death, but I 
dread your being contaminated. If you yield to those insolent 
men through fear, bind my hands with cords. Defenseless 
though they be, they will find their weapons in the knotted 
cords. Surely, the enemy must think you have made sufficient 
payment of your promise if you deliver me alive into their 
power.' 

In answer, the 3,000 who had climbed up the mountain 
gave him an oath that they would not use force against his 
life provided he would wear chains, so that they could 
hand him over and free themselves of the crime with which 
they were charged. 

When he had received their pledge, he left the cave and 
abandoned his rocky fortification. When he saw the strong 



184 SAINT AMBROSE 

Philistines approaching to take him, although he was bound 
with double cords, he groaned in spirit and broke his bonds. 
Then, seizing the jawbone of an ass lying there, he struck 
a thousand men and put the rest to flight in a magnificent 
display of strength, while battle lines of armed men fell 
back before a single defenseless man. Any and all who dared 
to approach him were slain with easy effort. Flight staved 
off death for the rest. Thus, even today, the place is called 
Agon, because there Samson won a great victory by his 
overwhelming strength. 

I wish that he had been as controlled in victory as he was 
strong against the enemy! But, as usually happens, a soul 
unused to good fortune, which ought to have attributed the 
outcome of the engagement to God's favor and protection, 
attributed it to himself I saying: 'With the jawbone of an 
ass I have destroyed ... a thousand men.' 18 He neither 
erected an altar nor sacrificed a victim to God, but, failing 
to sacrifice and taking glory to himself, he called the place 
e the killing of the jawbone' to immortalize his triumph with 
an everlasting name. 

Soon he began to feel a fierce thirst; there was no water 
and he could no longer stand to bear his thirst. Knowing 
that to attain human help would not be easy and that it 
would be difficult without divine aid, he called upon and 
begged almighty God, who he thought would not help him 
because of his offense against Him, and because he had 
unwisely and carefully attributed any success to himself. Nay, 
he even assigned the victory to almighty God, saying: Thou 
hast given this very great deliverance into the hand of thy 
servant, and it has been my help. And behold! because I 
die of thirst, I am placed by my need of water into the 
power of those over whom thou gavest me a great 

18 Judges 15.16. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 185 

triumph.' 19 Then God's mercy opened the earth when he 
threw down the jawbone, and a stream issued from it and 
Samson drank and resumed his spirit and called the place 
'the invoking of the spring. 3 Thus, by his prayer, he atoned 
for his vaunting of victory. Men expressed different opinions, 
noticing how arrogance might speedly bring harm and 
humility make atonement without offense. 

When in the course of events he had brought an end to 
the war with the Philistines, despising his people's cowardice 
and scorning the enemy bands, he went off to Gaza. This 
city was in the territory of the Philistines, and he lived there 
in a certain lodging house. The people of Gaza immediately 
took note and hastily surrounded his lodging place, putting 
a guard at all the doorways so that he could not plan to 
flee by night. When Samson became aware of their pre- 
parations he anticipated the plot they had laid for the 
nighttime, and taking hold of the columns of the house, 
lifting all the wood framework and the weight of the tower 
on his strong shoulders, he carried them up to the top of a 
high mountain which faced Hebron, where the Hebrew 
people dwelled. 

But when with free and untrammeled gait he passed not 
only beyond the limits of his home country, but also the 
boundaries which his ancestors had been taught to observe 
by custom, he soon found that he was playing with death. 
With small faith he contracted a marriage with a foreign-born 
wife and should have been cautious then or later. But he 
did not refrain from again forming a union, this time with 
Delila, who was a prostitute. Out of love for her he caused 
her to tempt him with the wiles of an enemy. For the 
Philistines came to her and each man promised her eleven 
hundred pieces of silver if she would find out in what lay 

19 Judges 15.18. 



186 SAINT AMBROSE 

the source of his strength. If they but possessed this secret 
he could be surrounded and taken. 

She who had once prostituted herself for money, 20 cleverly 
and craftily amid the banquet cups and the charms of her 
love, in admiration, as it were, of his pre-eminent ^bravery, 
began to question him about it and to ask him how it was he 
so excelled others in strength. Then, too, as though she were 
fearful and anxious, she begged him to tell his beloved what 
bond precisely would put him in the power of another. But 
he was still prudent and strong-willed and he countered 
deceit with deceit against the harlot's treachery, saying that 
if he were bound with supple green boughs he would be as 
weak as other men. When they learned this, the Philistines 
had Delila put boughs on him like chains while he slept. 
Then, as if suddenly awakened, the hero felt his famed 
and customary strength, broke his bonds, and fought back 
against the many who had their strength untrammelled. 

After a short time, Delila, like one who had been made 
fun of, began to complain passionately and to ask again and 
again what his real skill was, demanding proof of his 
affection for her. Samson, still strong of purpose, laughed at 
her tricks and suggested to her that if he were bound with 
seven brand-new ropes he would come into the power of 
his enemy. This also was tried, in vain. The third time he 
pretended that she had drawn him out regarding the mystery, 
but in reality, being nearer to a fall, he said that his 
strength would leave him if seven hairs of his head were cut 
and woven into a coverlet. This, too, deceived the tricksters. 

Later, when the woman boldly deplored the fact that he 
mocked her so many times and when she lamented that she 
was unworthy to be entrusted with her lover's secret and 
begged as a remedy that which she saw was likely to mean 

20 Cf. Judges 16.6-18. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 187 

a betrayal, she gained his confidence by her tears. And just 
as it was due that a man of bravery who had been invincible 
all this time, should pay the price, he opened up the 
wounded recesses of his soul: the strength of God was in 
him; he was holy to the Lord and by His command he let 
his hair grow, for, if he cut it, he would cease to be a 
Nazarene and would lose the use of his strength! When the 
Philistines discovered his weakness, through the woman, they 
gave her, the slave of their price, the reward for the treachery 
and thus concluded the affair. 

Next, by her charms as a harlot she drew the weary 
lover to sleep and, summoning a barber, she cut seven hairs 
of his head with a razor. At once his strength was reduced 
by the treachery of the forbidden act. At length, awaking 
from sleep, he said: 'I shall do as before and shall shake 
myself over my enemies.' 21 But he knew neither swiftness 
of soul nor strength. Force was not his, and grace had left 
him. Chiding himself further for having put his trust in 
women, he thought he would make further trial of the 
effect of his infirmity, so he allowed his eyes to be blinded, 
his hands bound, and his feet chained as he entered the 
prison which throughout his many vicissitudes he had never 
known. 

With the passage of time 22 his hair began to grow; then, 
during a crowded banquet of the Philistines, Samson was 
brought from prison and shown before the people. About 
3,000 men and women were there. They taunted him with 
cruel remarks, they surrounded him with mocking jests which 
he bore with greater stamina and beyond what his blind 
appearance suggested, for he was a man of great native 
strength. To live and to die are functions of nature, but 
mockery belongs to the base-born. The wish arose in him, 

21 Judges 16.20. 

22 Cf. Judges 16.22. 



1 88 SAINT AMBROSE 

therefore, either to compensate for such insults by revenge 
or preclude any more insults by death. He pretended that 
he could no longer support himself, because of the weakness 
of his body and the knots of his shackles, and he asked a 
servant boy, who was guiding his steps, to put him near the 
pillars which supported the house. Placed there, he grasped 
with both hands the support of the entire building and, 
while the Philistines were intent upon the sacrifices of the 
feast in honor of their god Dagon, through whom they 
thought the adversary had come into their hands, accounting 
the woman's treachery among the benefits of heaven, he 
called to the Lord, saying: 'Lord, once more remember 
your servant so that I may revenge myself on the Gentiles 
for my two eyes. Let them not give glory to their gods, 
because with their help they have gotten me in their power. 
I count my life as of no worth. Let my soul die with the 
Philistines, so that they may know that my weakness no less 
than my strength is deadly.' 23 

So he shook the columns with mighty force and he 
loosened and shattered them. The crash of the roof came 
next and fell on him and hurled headlong all those who 
were looking on from above. There in great confusion lay 
heaps of lifeless men and women, and, though slain, he 
attained his wished-for triumph, greater than all his former 
victories, and a death not inglorious or lacking luster. 
Although he was inviolable here and hereafter, and was 
not to be compared in his life to men who experienced 
war, in his death he conquered himself and made his 
invincible soul despise death, giving no thought to the end 
of life which all men fear. 

Through his valor he ended his days with numerous 
victories and found the captive not undone but triumphing. 
The fact that he was outwitted by a woman must be 

23 Judges 16.28-30. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 189 

attributed to his nature, not to his person; his condition was 
human rather than his fault less. He was overwhelmed, and 
yielded to the enticements of sin. And when Scripture bears 
witness that he slew more in death than when he had the 
light of life, it seems that he was made a captive more to 
work the ruin of his adversaries than to become cast down 
or counted less. He never experienced degradation, for his 
grave was more famous than had been his power. Finally, 
he was overwhelmed and buried not by weapons but by the 
dead bodies of his enemies, covered with his own triumph, 
leaving to posterity a glorious renown. Those people of his, 
whom he had found captive, he ruled in liberty for twenty 
years and then, entombed in the soil of his native land, he 
left behind the heritage of liberty. 

Because of this example, men should avoid marriage with 
those outside the faith, 24 lest, instead of love of one's spouse, 
there be treachery. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



36. To our lords the bishops, beloved brethren of Aemelia, 
Ambrose, bishop (386) 1 

Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Fathers teach us 
that it requires more than ordinary wisdom to determine the 
day for the celebration of Easter. Those who met at the Coun- 
cil of Nicaea, in addition to their decrees, true and admirable, 

24 A law of Theodpsius in 388 forbade marriage with Jews, but it does 
not antedate this letter. Ambrose mentions such an imperial pro- 
hibition in 2 Abr. 9.84; Expos, in P$. 118, serm. 20.48; 2 In Luc. 8. 

1 The authenticity of this letter is sometimes doubted by scholars, 
because of the condition of the text. Cf. E. Dekkers, O. S. B., Clavis 
Patrum Latinorum (Bruges 1951) 26, and C. W. Jones, Bedae opera 
de temporibus (Cambridge, Mass. 1943) 35, adn. 3. 



190 SAINT AMBROSE 

regarding the faith, using the help of men skilled in 
calculations, formulated for the above-mentioned celebration 
a scheme of nineteen years, and set up a sort of cycle on 
which might be patterned subsequent years. They called this 
the c nineteen-years' cycle/ 2 and, if we follow it, we should 
not waver amid foolish ideas regarding a celebration of this 
kind. Having found a true method of calculating, let every- 
one be of one opinion, so that the Sacrifice [of the Mass] 
for the Resurrection of the Lord may be offered everywhere 
on one night. 

Dearly beloved brethren of the Lord, we ought not deviate 
from the truth, nor dissent with varying opinions on the 
obligation of this celebration imposed on all Christians. The 
Lord Himself chose that day to celebrate the Passover 
which agreed with the method of the true observance. 
Scripture says: c And the day came when it was necesary to 
sacrifice the Passover, and he sent Peter and John, saying: 
"Go and prepare for us the Passover that we may eat it!" 
But they said, "Where dost thou want us to prepare it?" 
And he said to them: "Behold on your entering the city 
there will meet you a man carrying a pitcher of water: 
follow him into the house into which he goes, and you will 
say to the master of the house: c The Master says to thee, 
"Where is the guest chamber, that I may eat the Passover 
there with my disciples?" * And he will show you a large 
upper room; there make ready." ' 3 

We observe, therefore, that we should not descend to 
earthly things but seek a large furnished upper room for 
celebrating the Lord's Passover. When we cleanse our senses 
in a kind of spiritual water of the eternal fountain and 

2 Gr., enneakaidekaeteris; Lat., enneadecaeteris, the decennovenal cycle. 
For a history of the reckoning of the date of Easter, cf. Jones, op. cit. 
6-33. Its use in the Church of Milan is discussed on pp. 35-37. 

3 Luke 22.7-12. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 191 

keep the rule of a devout celebration, and do not follow 
common opinions, looking for certain days according to the 
moon, since the Apostle says: 'You are observing days and 
months and seasons and years. I fear for you, lest perhaps 
I have labored among you in vain/ 4 a beginning of another 
sort is in effect. 

It is one thing to keep the observance like the heathens, 
judging on what day something should be begun, as you 
think: 'avoid the fifth day,' 5 and that you ought begin 
nothing on it, trusting also various stages in the course of 
the moon for undertaking business, or avoiding certain days, 
as some persons habitually shy away from 'following' days 
or 'Egyptian' days. 6 It is quite another thing to keep a pious 
attitude toward that day of which Scripture says: 'This is 
the day which the Lord has made.' 7 Now, although it is 
written that the Lord's Passover should be celebrated on the 
fourteenth day of the first month, and we ought to look for 
the fourteenth moon 8 in spring for celebrating the course 
of the Lord's Passion, we should understand from this that 
for a solemnity of this kind we must have either the perfection 
of the Church or the fullness of clear faith, as the Prophet 
said when he spoke of the Son of God that 'His throne shall 
be as the sun in my sight, and as the full moon, it will last 
forever.' 9 

So it is that the Lord, having done wonderful works on 
earth, having deepened, as it were, the faith of men's minds, 
observed that it was the time of His Passion, saying : 'Father, 
the hour has come! Glorify thy son, that thy son may 

4 Gal. 4.10,11. 

5 Virgil, Georg. L276. 

6 A reference to current suspicions about days, as recorded by Gellius 
5.7. 

7 Ps. 117.24. 

8 quartamdecimam lunam. 

9 Ps. 88.37,38. 



192 SAINT AMBROSE 

glorify thee.' 10 He explains elsewhere that He wanted special 
renown in celebrating His Passion, saying: c Go and say to 
that fox, "Behold, I cast out devils and perform cures today 
and tomorrow, and the following day I am to end my 
course." ' n Let Jesus end His course in those who are 
beginning to be perfect, so that through their faith they may 
believe the fullness of His divinity and redemption. 

This is why we are seeking the day and the hour, as 
Scripture bids us. Even the Prophet David says: c lt is the 
time for thee to work, O Lord,' 12 as he begs for understanding 
to know the Lord's testimonies. And Ecclesiastes also says: 
'All things have their season.' 13 Jeremias cries: The turtle 
and the swallow and the sparrows of the field have known the 
times of their coming.' 14 What is more evident than that it 
is said of the Passion of the Lord: The ox knoweth his 
owner and the ass his master's crib.' 15 Let us, then, know 
the Lord's crib where we are nourished, fed, and refreshed, 

We should know in particular the time when the har- 
monious prayer of the sacred night is poured forth throughout 
the whole world, because prayers are made acceptable in 
time, as Scripture says: c ln an acceptable time I heard thee 
and in the day of salvation I have helped thee. 316 This is 
the time of which the Apostle said: 'Behold now is the 
acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation.' 17 

Accordingly, it is necessary, even after the calculations 
of the Egyptians, and the definitions of the Church at 
Alexandria and of the bishop 18 of the Church at Rome, 

10 John 17.1. 

11 Luke 13.32. 

12 Ps. 118.126. 

13 Eccle. 3.1. 



14 Jer. 8.7. 

15 Isa. 1.3. 

16 Isa. 49.8. 

17 2 Cor. 6.3. 

18 episcopi is ambiguous here; our reading is 'post . . . definitiones 
episcopi [genitive] quoque Romanae Ecdesiae.' 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 193 

since several are still awaiting my opinion by letter, to write 
what I think regarding the day of the Passover. Granted 
that it is a question concerning the coming day of the 
Passover, we are stating what we feel should be maintained 
in the future, if such a question should ever arise. 

Two observances are necessary in solemnizing the Passover : 
the fourteenth moon and the first month, called the month 
of new fruits. 19 Now, that we may not seem to depart from 
the Old Testament, let us review the very chapter which 
concerns the day for celebrating the Passover. Moses tells 
the people to keep the month of new fruits, specifying that 
it be the first month, saying: 'This will be the beginning of 
months for you, it will be the first of the months of the year; 
and thou shalt offer the Passover to the Lord thy God on 
the fourteenth day of the first month.' 20 

To be sure, the Law 'was given through Moses; grace 
and truth came through Jesus Christ/ 21 He who spoke the 
Law, coming later Himself through a virgin in later times, 
accomplished the fulfillment of the Law, because He came 
not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. 22 He celebrated the 
Passover in a week when the fourteenth of the month fell 
on the fifth day [of the new moon]. In fact, on that very 
day, as the above indicates, He ate the Passover with His 
disciples; on the following day, that is, the sixth day [of the 
new moon] and the fifteenth day [of the month] He was 
crucified; the sixteenth was on the great Sabbath, and 
therefore He arose from the dead on the seventeenth. 

We must keep the law regarding Easter in such a way that 
we do not observe the fourteenth as the day of the 
Resurrection; that day or one very close to it is the day of 

19 novorum. 

20 Exod. 12.1,6. These are the words of God to Moses who transmitted 
them to the Israelites. 

21 John 1.7. 

22 Cf. Matt. 5.17. 



194 SAINT AMBROSE 

the Passion, because the feast of the Resurrection is kept on 
the Lord's day. Moreover, we cannot fast on the Lord's 
day; fasting on this day is what we criticize in the Man- 
ichaeans. One shows disbelief in the Resurrection of Christ 
if he proposes a law of fast on the day of the Resurrection, 
since the Law says that the Passover should be eaten with 
bitterness, that is, with sorrow because the Author of our 
salvation was slain by mankind's great sacrilege. On the 
Lord's day the Prophet bids us rejoice, saying: This is the 
day which the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice 
at it.' 23 

Consequently, we must observe both the day of the Passion 
and of the Resurrection, to have a day of bitterness and one 
of joy, fasting on one day, being refreshed on the other. If 
it happens, however, as will occur next time, that the four- 
teenth day of the first month is the Lord's day, since we 
should not fast on that day nor break our fast on the 
thirteenth which falls on the Sabbath, for it is a day of 
special observance as the day of the Passion, the celebration 
of Easter should be postponed to the following week. Other- 
wise, it happens that the fifteenth when Christ suffered will 
be on the second day of the week, the third day will be the 
sixteenth when the Lord's body rested in the tomb, and the 
fourth day will be on the seventeenth when the Lord arose. 

Therefore, when, as will happen next time, the three holy 
days run into the following week, the three days within 
which He suffered, lay in the tomb, and arose, the three 
days of which He/ said: 'Destroy this temple and in three 
days I will raise it up/ 24 what can cause troublesome doubt 
in us? If we scruple because we do not celebrate the day of 
the Passion or the Resurrection on the fourteenth, recall 
that the Lord Himself suffered not on the fourteenth, but 

23 Ps. 117.24. 

24 John 2.19. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 195 

on the fifteenth, and arose on the seventeenth. If our difficulty 
is in our failing to observe the fourteenth of the month 
which falls on the Lord's day, that is, April 18, and we tell 
you to celebrate the following Lord's day, there is authority 
for this practice, too. 

A short while ago, when the fourteenth of the first month 
fell on the Lord's day, the solemnity was observed on the 
following Lord's day. And in the eighty-ninth year of the 
era of Diocletian 25 when the fourteenth day of the first month 
fell on March 24, we celebrated Easter on the last day of 
March. So, too, did the people of Alexandria and Egypt. 
They wrote to say that when the fourteenth fell on the 
twenty-eighth day of the month of Phamenoth 26 they cel- 
ebrated Easter on the fifth day of Pharmuth, 27 which is the 
last day of March. Thus, they agreed perfectly with us. 
Again, in the ninety-third year of the era of Diocletian 28 
when the fourteenth fell on the fourteenth of Pharmuth, 
which is April 9 and happened to be the Lord's day, they 
celebrated Easter on the Lord's day, the twenty-first of 
Pharmuth, or, according to us, April 16. Since we are 
supplied with a method of calculating as well as precedent, 
we should have no more trouble on this point. 

Here something else demands explanation, the fact that 
some think we will be celebrating Easter in the second month, 
whereas Scripture says: 'Keep the first month of new fruits/ 29 
Yet it will not happen that we celebrate the Passover outside 

25 A. D. 373. 

26 Phamenoth, the month before Pharmuth, i. e., the seventh month. 

27 Pharmuth, so called in honor of the serpent Renenutet (later pro- 
nounced Remute[t]) , 'the raising goddess.' She was worshiped as a 
more special harvest goddess than Osiris and the month Pharmuth 
was dedicated to her evidently because the harvest once fell in that 
month. Cf. Mythology of All Races ed. L. H. Gray, Vol. 12 (Boston 
1918) 66. 

28 A. D. 377. 

29 Dent. 16.1. 



1 96 SAINT AMBROSE 

of the month ot new fruits unless the fourteenth is kept 
exactly to the letter, and is not celebrated on any but the 
very day. Now, the Jews are planning to celebrate on the 
twelfth, that is, March 20 according to us, and it will be 
not the first month. However, according to the Egyptians it 
will be the twenty-fourth day of Phamenoth, which is not 
the first month, but the twelfth month. The Egyptians call 
the first month Pharmuth; it begins March 27 and ends April 
25. Thus, in accord with the reckoning of the Egyptians, we 
will be celebrating Easter Sunday in the first month, that 
is, April 25, the thirtieth day of Pharmuth. 

I do not think we are unreasonable in borrowing, from 
the country where the first Passover was celebrated, an 
example for observing the month. Our predecessors, too, in 
the ordinance of the Council of Nicaea thought that the very 
same nineteen-years' cycle should be decided upon. If one 
carefully considers the matter [he will see] that they pre- 
served the month of the new fruits, because in Egypt grain 
is cut in this month. This month is not only the first as far 
as the crops of the Egyptians are concerned, but first according 
to the Law, and it is the eighth month with us, since the 
induction 30 begins in September. April 1 is in the eighth 
month, yet the month begins according to the experts, 
although not according to common usage with the equinox, 
March 21, and ends April 21. That is why the Passover has 
usually been celebrated within these thirty-one days. 

Six years ago we celebrated Easter on April 21, which was 
the thirtieth day of the month, as we reckon it; therefore, 
we must not be disturbed to be soon celebrating Easter on the 

30 Ambrose is the first of the Latin Fathers to mention the indiction. 
He is here probably referring to the Constantinian or Constantino- 
politan indiction which was used principally in the Greek East. It 
began September 1, 312, as the schedule of rate of tax to be raised on 
capita and iuga for a period of fifteen years; cf. art. 'Indictio/ Oxford 
Classical Dictionary (Oxford 1949) 452. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 197 

thirtieth day of Pharmuth. If anyone says it is in the second 
month, since Easter will occur three days after the completed 
month, which appears to end on April 21, he should realize 
that our concern is with the fourteenth day, which occurs 
on April 18, well within the month's count. The Law only 
requires that the day of the Passion be celebrated within the 
first month of new fruits. 

This reckoning is satisfactory as far as the full month is 
concerned, since it still has three days remaining for its 
completion. Easter does not pass into a different month when 
it is celebrated within the same month, the first. And, too, 
we should not be bound to the letter if the custom of the 
celebration of Easter is our guide. The Apostle, too,, teaches 
us, saying: 'Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed. 531 The 
passage just read teaches us not to follow the letter, for you 
have the words: 'You will perform the Pasch to the Lord 
your God on the fourteenth day of the first month.' 32 He 
uses the word 'day' instead of 'month'; consequently, those 
skilled in the Law compute the month by the course of the 
moon. Since the course of the moon, that is, its first day, 
may begin on more than one of the nones, you see that the 
nones of May can still be reckoned within the first month 
of new fruits. According to the judgment of the Law, therefore 5 
this is the first month. Finally, the Greeks call the moon 
mene and so call the months menas 3 in Greek, while the 
natural practice of foreign peoples uses the term 'month' in 
place of 'days.' 

Yet, the writings of the Old Testament show that we 
must celebrate the Passion one day and the Resurrection 
another. You have the words : 'And it will be a lamb without 
blemish, clean, perfect, of one year, a male; you will take 
it from the sheep and -goats, and it will be for the observing 

31 1 Cor. 5.7. 

32 Exod. 12.18. 



198 SAINT AMBROSE 

until the fourteenth day of this month, and the whole 
multitude of the sons of the synagogue of Israel will slay it 
at evening .and take of its blood and put it on both the side 
posts, and on the upper doorpost of the house in which they 
will eat it together, and they shall eat the flesh that night 
roasted at the fire.' 33 And further on: e And you will eat it 
with care, for it is the Phase [Passage] of the Lord and I 
will pass through the land of the Egyptians that night and 
will kill every first-born in Egypt of man and beast, and I 
will execute judgment on all the land of Egypt. I am the 
Lord. And the blood shall be unto you for a sign in the 
houses where you shall be; and I shall see the blood and I 
shall protect you, and the plague of destruction will not be 
upon you. And I shall crush the land of Egypt and this day 
will be a memorial and solemnity for you, and you will keep 
it a feast of the Lord in your generations, an everlasting 
covenant, you will keep that festival day.' 34 

We note, too, that the day of the Passion is appointed 
on a fast day because the lamb is to be slain toward evening, 
although we can understand 'the last time' instead of 'evening' 
according to John who says: 'Children, it is the last hour.' 35 
But, according to the mystery, it is certain that the slaying 
took place in the evening when the shadows were falling 
quickly, and the fast should be kept on that day, for then 
you will eat it with anxiety, since those fasting have anxiety. 
On the day of the Resurrection there is the joy of refreshment 
and happiness, for it appears that the people left Egypt on 
that day, after the first-born of the Egyptians had been 
slain. Later details indicate this more clearly where Scripture 
says that, after the Jews performed the Passover as Moses 
commanded, 'it came to pass at midnight the Lord struck 

33 Exod. 12.5-8. 

34 Exod. 12.11-14. 

35 1 John 2.18. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 199 

every first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of 
Pharao. And Pharao called Moses and Aaron in the night 
and said to them: " Arise and go forth from among my 
people, you and your children, go and serve the Lord your 
God." J3G The Egyptians even urged the people to go, hurry- 
ing to drive them out as quickly as possible. Whereupon, 
the Israelites departed in such fashion that they had no 
chance to leaven their dough, for the Egyptians drove them 
out and they could not take what they had prepared for 
their journey. 

It is evident, then, that the day of the Resurrection 
should be kept after the day of the Passion, and the former 
should not be on the fourteenth of the month, but later, as 
the Old Testament says. The day of the Resurrection is that 
on which the people departing from Egypt were baptized in 
the sea and in the cloud, as the Apostle says, 37 and overcame 
death, receiving a spiritual food and drinking a spiritual 
drink from the rock. Again, the Lord's Passion cannot be 
celebrated on the Lord's day. And, if the fourteenth day 
falls on the Lord's day, another week should be added, as 
was done in the seventy-sixth year of the era of Diocletian. 3 * 
Then, with no hesitancy on the part of our predecessors, we 
celebrated the Lord's day of Passover on the twenty-eighth 
of Pharmuth, April 23. The course of the moon and careful 
calculation support this plan to celebrate the next Easter on 
the twenty-first day, because the month is commonly extended 
to the twenty-first. 

Since we have so much evidence of the truth, combined 
with the example of our predecessors, let us keep the feast 
of the people's salvation with joy and gladness, and color 
our doorposts where is hung the door of the Word, which 

36 Exod. 12.29-31. 

37 Cf. 1 Cor. 10.2-4. 

38 A. D. 360. 



200 SAINT AMBROSE 

the Apostle wishes to be opened to Him with faith in the 
Lord's Passion. 39 Of this door David also speaks, saying: 
c Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and a guard at the 
door of my lips/ 40 so that we will speak of nothing but the 
blood of Christ, by which we overcame death, by which we 
were redeemed. Let the sweet odor of Christ burn in us. 
Let us listen to Him, let us direct the eyes of our soul and 
body to Him, and marvel at His works and proclaim His 
goodness. Over the threshold of our door let the praise of 
His holy Redemption gleam. Let us take the Sacrament with 
fervent soul in the azymes of sincerity and truth, chanting 
together with holy wisdom the glory of the Father and 
Son, and the undivided majesty of the Holy Spirit. 



37. Ambrose to Anatolius, Numerius, Severus, Philippus^ 

Macedonius, Ammianus, Theodosius, Eutropius, 

Clarus, Eusebius, and Timotheus, priests of the 

Lord, and to all the beloved clergy and people of 

Thessalonica, greetings (383) 1 

While I had a deep longing to keep always in mind the 
saintly man and to scrutinize his acts, stationed, as it were, 
on a watchtower, with ever-enveloping anxiety I drank the 
bitter draught of that too sudden message and learned what 
I would prefer still to be unacquainted with, that the one 
we were ever seeking on earth is already at rest in heaven. 

You ask who brought this message, since the letter of 
your Holiness had not yet arrived. I do not recall the 

39 Cf. Col, 4.3. 

40 Ps. 140.3. 



1 Written to console the people of Macedonia after the death of their 
bishop, the saintly Acholius. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 201 

bearer of the message; we generally do not willingly re- 
member the messenger of sorrow. And although at that time 
the sea was closed and our lands held fast by invading 
barbarians, although there was no one who could come, 
there was not lacking one to bring that message. It seems 
to me that the saint himself was his own messenger to us, 
because, having received the everlasting reward of his labors, 
and being set free from the chains of the body, fast by the 
side of Christ amid the ministry of angels, he wished to 
dispel the cloud of doubt of one who loved him, lest we 
should pray for long life for one to whom the rewards of 
eternal life were already being given. 

He departed, he did not die; this veteran soldier of Jesus 
Christ left us, exchanging the soil of this earth for heaven. 
Beating his wings, the oarage of his spirit, he says: 'Lo, I 
have gone far off flying away.' 2 In the spirit of the Apostle 
he wanted long ago to leave this earth, but he was detained 
by the prayers of all, as we read of the Apostle, 3 because 
the Church had need of his abiding longer in the flesh. He 
lived not for his own interests but for those of all, and he 
was to his people the dispenser of eternal life, experiencing 
the enjoyment of it in others before knowing it in himself. 

Now he is an inhabitant of the regions above, an occupant 
of the eternal city Jerusalem, which is in heaven. He sees 
there that city's boundless boundary, 4 its pure gold, its 
precious stone, and its perpetual light which knows no sun. 
Seeing all these, known to him for a long time, but now 
revealed face to face, he says: 'As we have heard, so have 
we seen, in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our 
God.' 5 Stationed there, he addresses the people 6f God, say- 

2 PS. 54.8. 

3 Cf. Phil. 1.23,24. 

4 mensuram immensam. 

5 Ps. 47.9. 



202 SAINT AMBROSE 

ing: C O Israel, how great is the house of God, and how vast 
is the place of his possession! It is great and hath no end.' 6 

But what is happening? While I am pondering the merits 
of the man, and, as it were, following him in spirit as he 
departs, and mingling with the choirs of the saints who are 
escorting him not by any virtue of mine, but by my 
affection I am almost forgetful of myself. Has there not 
been taken from us a wall of faith, of grace, and of sanctity? 
Often, although troops of Goths besieged this wall, 7 their 
barbarian weapons have never been able to penetrate, nor 
has the warlike fury of many nations been able to take it 
by storm. In other lands they sought plunder, but in your 
land peace. And when men wonder what brings them to a 
halt without benefit of a soldier, the wise suggest that a man 
who resembles Eliseus is within, like him in age, not unlike 
him in spirit; let them beware [they say] lest blindness 
overwhelm them as it did the Syrian ranks. 8 

Yet around Christ's disciples are His various gifts. Eliseus 
led the captive lines of the Syrians into Samaria, while the 
saintly Acholius by his prayers drove the victors from 
Macedonia. Do we not see it was by a higher power that 
from where there was no soldier they were routed without a 
soldier? Is it not blindness for them to have fled whom no 
one pursued? Truly the saintly Acholius was attacking and 
engaging them, not with swords but with prayers, not with 
spears but by his merits. 

Or do we not know that the saints keep up the struggle 
even when they are unoccupied? Was not Eliseus enjoying 
quiet? Yes, his body was quiet but his spirit was all aquiver, 

6 Bar. 3.24,25. 

7 A reference to the guerilla warfare which Theodosius waged against 
the Goths from Thessalonica. A pestilence which Ambrose here 
attributes to the prayers of Acholius eventually caused a severe 
though temporary setback for the Goths. 

8 Cf. 4 Kings 7, 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 203 

and he did battle by his prayers when the cry of horsemen 
was heard in the Syrian camp along with the cry of a 
great host. In fact, the Syrians thought that the armies of 
other kings were coming upon them to aid the people of 
Israel. For this reason they fled in great fear, and four lepers 
who had come forth, longing for death, contaminated the 
camp of the enemy. Did not the Lord work similar or almost 
greater miracles in Macedonia by the prayers of the saintly 
Acholius? For, not by vain fear or vague suspicion, but by a 
raging plague and burning pestilence, were the Goths routed 
and terrorized. In fact, they fled at first to escape, but later 
came back and sued for peace to live. 

In the deeds of this great man we have seen ages past 
and we have witnessed the works of those Prophets of which 
we used to read. Like Eliseus, while he lived, Acholius spent 
his days amid armies and battles, bringing wars to an end by 
his good deeds. At last, when peace was restored to his 
countrymen, he gave up his holy spirit, a misfortune harsher 
than the war itself. Like Elias he has been taken up to 
heaven, 9 not in a fiery chariot, or by fiery steeds unless, 
perchance, we did not see them or in a fiery whirlwind, 
but by the will and favor of our God, and with the joy of 
all the holy angels who rejoiced that one so great had come 
to them. 

Certainly we cannot doubt these facts since other details 
agree so well. At the very moment when he was being taken 
up, letting his garment fall, as it were, he put it on blessed 
Anysius, 10 his own disciple, and vested him with the miter 
of the episcopal office. I am not hearing of his deeds and 
favor now for the first time, nor did I learn of them in letters 
from you, but I recalled them from your letters. Knowing 
beforehand that he would be his successor, Acholius kept 

9 Cf. 4 Kings 2.11. 
10 To whom Ambrose addressed a letter of encouragement. 



204 SAINT AMBROSE 

assuring him by promises, marking him with special tokens, 
speaking of the help he had received through his care and 
labor and ministry. He seemed already to declare him his 
coadjutor so that he might come not like a tyro to the high 
office of the episcopate, but like a veteran and an accom- 
plished performer of the priestly office. To him is applied 
very beautifully that saying of the Gospel: 'Well done, good 
and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a 
few things, I will set thee over many.' 11 

These thoughts about the saintly Acholius you and I have 
in common. I have a special attachment to this man of 
blessed memory, since he made it possible for me to know 
him. For, when he came to Italy and I was confined by an 
illness so serious that I could not go to meet him, he himself 
came and visited me. 12 With what fondness and affection did 
we rush into each other's embrace ! With what groans did we 
deplore the evils of our age and the events taking place here 
so that we moistened our garments with a stream of tears 
all the while we two enjoyed this hoped-for meeting and I 
clung to the embrace of one so long desired. Thus did his 
kindness make possible my prayer to see him, and although 
in the soul, the seat of love, the greater share and deeper 
knowledge of others reside, we also desire to see our friends 
in person. Therefore, in times past the kings of the earth 
sought to see the face of Solomon and to hear his wisdom. 13 

But Acholius has gone from us and left us on this sea. An 
event which is beneficial to him is harder upon many than was 
the fury of the barbarians. He used to drive them off; but who 
will be able to take his place for us? The Lord takes his place 
and in his disciple he succeeds himself. Your decisions re- 

11 Matt 25.23. 

12 This probably took place at the Council of Rome in 382 when 
Ambrose fell ill soon after his arrival and was confined to his bed 
at his sister's home. 

13 Cf. 3 Kings 10.24. 



LETTERS TO BISHOPS 205 

present him whereby it has been said: 'Grant to Levi those 
who are manifest as his, and his truth in the holy man/ 14 
You have chosen one who is manifestly his, inasmuch as he 
was grounded in his teaching; you have chosen an imitator 
of that man who said to his father and mother: 1 do not 
know you.' 15 This man, too, has not acknowledged his 
brothers and did not know his sons; he has kept the word 
of the Lord and observed His Testament. The people will 
declare his justice. 16 

Such was this man's life, such his heritage, his way of 
life, his succession. As a youth he entered a monastery; he 
was enclosed in a narrow cell in Achaia while by grace he 
wandered over the space of many lands. Having been called 
to the fullness of the priesthood by the people of Macedonia, 
he was elected by the clergy; and where formerly the faith 
was weakened 17 through its priest, there, later, through a 
priest the foundation walls of faith were made firm. 

Imitating no one else, he is a disciple of him 'who said 
to his father and mother: "I have not seen you/ 5318 He 
saw them not with longing or with affection, and he did not 
know his brethren because he desired to know the Lord. He 
observed the word of the Lord and kept His Testament, and 
he will always lay honor upon His altar. O Lord, bless his 
faith, his holiness, his zeal! May Thy blessings come upon 
his head and his shoulders! May he be like the bull in the 
herd; may he toss the hearts of his enemy and melt the souls 
of the saints, and may the judgment of Thy priests flourish 
in him like a lily. 19 

Farewell, brethren, and love me as I also love you. 

14 Cf. Deut. 33.8. 

15 Deut. 33.9. 

16 Cf. Eccli. 44.15. 

17 Several mss. read claudebat ('closed') , but this is no less difficult to 
construe than claudebatur. The Benedictines suggest claudicabat 

('was lame') , which agrees well with the sense of the following phrase. 

18 Cf. Deut. 33.9. 

19 Cf. Deut. 33.16,17; Eccli. 39.19. 




SYNODAL LETTERS 



38. To the beloved brethren, the Bishops of Vienne and 

Narbonne in Gaul, the Council which met at 

Aquileia (May, 381) 

|E GIVE THANKS to your holy Unanimity which hon- 
ored us with the presence of all of you in the persons 
of our lords and brethren, Constantius and Proculus. 
At the same time, following the customs of your predecessors, 
you added no slight weight to our deliberations when your 
Holiness agreed to our statements, dearly beloved lords and 
brethren. Therefore, as we gladly welcomed those revered 
men of your assembly and ours, so are we sending them 
away with a rich testimony of thanks. 

How necessary was a meeting such as we held is evident 
from the very events which took place, namely, that our 
adversaries, enemies of God, those defenders of the Arian 
sect and heresy, Palladium and Secundianus, the only two 
who dared come to the council, received their due sentence, 
and were convicted of impiety. 

Farewell. May our God omnipotent keep you safe and 
prosperous, our lords, most beloved brethren. Amen. 

207 



208 SAINT AMBROSE 

39. To the most clement and most Christian Emperors and 

most blessed princes Gratian, Valentinian y and 

Theodosius, the holy Council which met at 

Aquileia (May, 381) 

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who 
gave you the Roman Empire, and blessed be our Lord Jesus 
Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, who guards your rule 
with His love, in whom we give thanks to you, most gracious 
Princes. You have proven the zeal of your faith, being 
zealous to assemble a council of bishops 1 for the removal of 
discord, and by your favor you granted honor to the bishops 
so that no one who wished to attend was absent, and no 
one was forced to attend against his will. 

Therefore, in accord with the order of your Mildness we 
met without unpleasantness of crowds and with the in- 
tention of debating the issues. No heretical bishops were 
found in attendance except Palladius and Secundianus, 
names of long-standing disloyalty, on whose account men 
from the farthest reachqs of the Roman world asked that a 
council be summoned. No one burdened with the years of 
old age and with grey hairs, which in themselves are ven- 
erable, was forced to come from distant shores of the ocean. 
Nevertheless, the council lacked nothing. No one dragging 
a weak body burdened with the rigors of fasting was forced 
by the difficulty of the journey to lament the hardships laid 
upon his ruined strength. Finally, no one groaned if destitute 
of the means of coming because of poverty so laudable in 
bishops. That which holy Scripture has praised was fulfilled 

1 For the date, see J. Zeller, 'La date du concile d'Aquilee/ Revue 
d'histoire ecdesiastique 33 (1937) 39-45. The authentic official account 
of the Council (Gesta concilii Aquiliensis: PL 16.939-949) is supple- 
mented by four synodal letters included in Ambrose's correspondence, 
since he probably drew them up. See also Dissertatio Maximini 
contra Ambrosium, an Arian pamphlet published a little later (ed. 
Kaufrnann, 1899). 



SYNODAL LETTERS 209 

in you, most clement of princes, Gratian: 'Blessed is he that 
takes thought for the needy and poor.' 2 

How truly serious it would have been if, because of only two 
priests withering away with disloyalty, the churches over the 
whole world were deprived of their greatest bishops? Although 
some from the western provinces were unable to come in 
person because of the length of the journey, almost all from 
the western provinces were present in the delegates they sent, 
and gave evident proofs that they held what we assert and 
that they were in harmony with the proceeding of the Council 
of Nicaea as their documents declared. Everywhere now the 
prayers of nations are raised in concert for the welfare of 
your empire, and the defenders of the faith have not failed 
your wishes. Although our predecessors' decrees, from which 
it is unholy and sacrilegious to deviate, were plain, we made 
it possible to discuss even these. 

First we examined the root of the matter under invest- 
igation and decided to read the letter of Arius, who is found 
to be the author of the Arian heresy, and from whom the 
heresy gets its name. Then, those who had always main- 
tained that they were not Arians could, by censuring the 
contents of the letter, condemn the blasphemies of Arius, or 
defend them by additional arguments, or, at least, not refuse 
the name of him whose irreligion and disloyalty they followed. 
Inasmuch as they could not condemn and were unwilling to 
give approval to their own founder, and three days pre- 
viously had challenged us to a discussion at a fixed place 
and time, not waiting for the assembly to begin, those who 
had said they would readily prove that they were Christians 
(which we heard with joy and hoped they would prove) 
suddenly began to leave the meeting and to refuse to debate 
further. 

2 Ps. 40.2. 



210 SAINT AMBROSE 

Nevertheless, we had already had a great deal of discussion 
with them; the holy Scriptures were brought into our 
midst; the opportunity for patient discussion was offered from 
dawn until the seventh hour. Would that they had spoken on 
only a few matters or that we were able to forget all we 
heard! Since Arius says in sacrilegious phrases that only the 
Father is eternal, only He is good, only He is true God, 
only He has immortality, only He is wise, only He is power- 
ful, and by impious inference wishes the Son to be thought 
of as not partaking of these attributes, these men preferred 
to follow Arius rather than admit that the Son of God was 
the eternal God, the true God, the good God, wise, powerful, 
and possessing immortality. We spent many hours in vain. 
Their impiety mounted and could in no way be checked. 

Finally, when they realized that they were hard pressed 
by the sacrileges contained in Arius' letter (which we have 
appended so that your Clemency may al^o realize the pain 
it caused) they jumped up in the midst of the reading of 
the letter and demanded that we answer their proposals. 
Although it was not consonant with the order of the day or 
with reason that we interrupt the agenda, and we had said 
that in reply they should condemn Arius' heresies, and in 
due order and in a set place we would reply to their charges, 
notwithstanding, we agreed to their preposterous wish. Then, 
falsely interpreting the reading of the Gospel, they proposed 
to us that the Lord had said: 'He who sent me is greater 
than I,' although the context of Scripture teaches otherwise. 

They were made to admit the falsehood, although they 
still were not corrected by reason. For, when we said that 
the Son was said to be less than the Father in His taking of 
a body, but that in His divinity He is proved by the testimony 
of Scripture to be like and equal to the Father, and that 
there could be no difference in degree of rank or greatness, 



SYNODAL LETTERS 211 

where there was unity of power, they not only refused to 
correct their error, but even began to be more enraged and to 
say that the Son was subject in His divinity, as if there could 
be any subjection of God in His divinity and majesty. Finally, 
they attributed His death not to the mystery of our salvation 
but to some weakness of His divinity. 

We shudder to think, most clement Princes, of these 
dreadful sacrileges, these corrupt teachers. And that they 
may not further deceive the people whom they govern, we 
have decided that they should be deprived of their priestly 
power, since they agreed to the impiety in the document 
presented to them. It is not fitting that they claim for them- 
selves the priesthood of One whom they deny. We beg your 
faith and glory to manifest the reverence of your authority 
to Him who is its source, and determine that these pro- 
claimers of impiety and corrupters of the truth, by a rescript 
of your Clemency to competent authority, be barred from 
the doors of the Church, and that, in place of the guilty ones, 
holy priests be delegated through the legates of our Littleness. 

The same opinion was held by Attalus, a priest who 
admitted his collusion with and adherence to the sacrilegious 
teachings of Palladius. Why should we speak of his master 
Julian Valens? Although he lived close by, he refused to 
attend the council of bishops, fearing he would be compelled 
to explain before the bishops the ruin of his country and the 
betrayal of his citizens. He, desecrated by the impiety of the 
Goths, is said to have even dared like a heathen, wearing 
necklace and bracelets, to make his appearance before the 
Roman army. Such conduct is obviously sacrilegious, not only 
in a bishop but in any Christian whatsoever. It is also alien 
to Roman custom, although the idolatrous worshipers of the 
Goths are accustomed to appear thus. 

May the name of bishop move your Holiness, a name 



212 SAINT AMBROSE 

which that unholy person disgraces. He is convicted of 
unspeakable wickedness by the statements of his people who 
still survive. Let him at least return to his own home, let 
him not befoul the cities of a very flourishing Italy. At 
present, by illegal ordinations he associates with himself men 
like himself and through certain reprobate persons seeks to 
leave the seeds of his impiety and treachery. He has not even 
begun to be a bishop. First of all, he replaced the saintly 
Mark at Pettau, a priest of holy memory. Being unable to 
stay at Pettau, he is now at Milan after the overthrow, or, 
let us say, 'betrayal/ of his country. 

May your Piety, therefore, deign to counsel us on all 
these matters, so we will not appear to have met in vain 
when we complied with the ordinances of your Tranquility. 
Care must be taken not only that our decrees but also yours 
be not held in dishonor. Therefore, we beg your Clemency 
to hear with all indulgence the delegates of the council, holy 
men, and bid them return as soon as possible with those 
things accomplished which we ask. Thus may you receive a 
reward from the Lord God, Christ, whose Church you have 
rid of all stain of sacrilege. 

You have also removed the Photinians, 3 who by a former 
law you had decreed should hold no assemblies, revoking, 
too, that law which was passed regarding the meeting of a 
council of bishops. We ask your Clemency, knowing that 
their assemblies are still being held in Sirmium, though these 

3 Followers of Photinus, a heretic, a native of Ancyra and bishop of 
Sirmium. Reviving Sabellianism, he denied the plurality of Persons in 
the Trinity. He was condemned at Antioch (344) , at Milan (347) , 
and deposed by the first Synod of Sirmium. His condemnation was 
confirmed by the second Ecumenical Council, He died in 366. Cf. 
J. Thein, Ecclesiastical Dictionary (New York 1900) . 

4 Gratian complied with the request of the bishops; cf. Letter 42, below. 



SYNODAL LETTERS 213 

assemblies have been put under interdict, that you give orders 
to have reverence shown first to the Catholic Church and 
then to your laws, so that, with God as your patron, you 
may triumph, while you provide for the peace and tranquility 
of the churches. 4 



40. To the most dement Emperors and most Christian 

Princes, most glorious and most blessed Gratian, 

Valentinian, and Theodosius, the Council which 

met at Aquileia (May, 381) 

Provision has been made, most clement Princes, by the 
enactments of your Tranquility, that the disbelief of the 
Arians may not be further hidden or spread abroad, for we 
do not anticipate the decrees of the council being without 
effect. As regards the West, only two individuals have been 
found to dare oppose the council with profane and blas- 
phemous remarks, men who had previously thrown into 
confusion only a small corner of southern Dacia. 1 

There is another reason which distresses us more, which 
we had to treat when we assembled, lest it spread over the 
whole body of the Church scattered thoughout the world, 
and thus throw everything into confusion. Although we 
generally agreed that Ursinus 2 could not have deceived your 
Piety (although he allows no tranquility and, amid the 
countless exigencies of war, attempts an ill-timed deceit), yet, 
that your holy mind and tranquiiity of soul, which delight in 

1 On the Danube. 

2 Ursinus, antipope, was elected in 366 by jealous adherents of Liberius 
after the election by a large majority of Pope Damasus. Eventually, 
Ursinus came to Milan where he found adherents among the Arians 
there. 



2 14 SAINT AMBROSE 

taking thought for all, may not be swayed by the false 
adulation of that unreasonable man, we think it right, if you 
condescendingly allow it, to pray and beseech you, not only 
to guard against future events, but also to be alarmed over 
that which has been achieved by his temerity. For, if he 
found any avenue for his boldness, what would he not put 
into confusion? 

If pity for a single person can influence you, let the 
prayer of all the bishops move you much more. Who of us 
will be joined in fellowship with him, when he has tried to 
usurp a position not due to him, and to which he could not 
rightfully attain, and tries to regain most unreasonably what 
he has unreasonably sought? As often as he has been found 
guilty of disturbances, he still goes on, as though undeterred 
by past experiences. Generally (as we ascertained and saw 
in the present council), he was in union and combination 
with the Arians, when, in company with Valens, 3 he tried to 
throw into confusion the Church at Milan, holding secret 
assemblies, sometimes before the doors of the synagogue, 
sometimes in the homes of Arians, and getting his friends to 
join them. Then, since he himself could not openly enter their 
assemblies, teaching and informing them how the peace of 
the Church might be disturbed, he drew fresh courage from 
their madness when he was able to earn the favor of their 
supporters and allies. 

Since it is written: A factious man avoid after a first 
admonition, 3 * and since another who spoke by the Holy 
Spirit said that beasts of this sort should be spurned and 
not received with greeting or welcome, 5 how can we not 

3 Julian Valens of Pettau had the assistance of the antipope Ursinus, 
who bore a grudge against Ambrose because the latter supported Pope 
Damasus. 

4 Tit. 3.10. 

5 Cf. 2 John 10. 



SYNODAL LETTERS 215 

judge the person whom we have seen united to their society 
to be also an exponent of disbelief? Even if he were not 
there, we would nevertheless have besought your Clemency 
not to allow disturbance to reach the Roman Church, head 
of the whole Roman world, and that sacred trust of the 
Apostles, whence flow all the rights of venerable communion 
upon all persons. We therefore beg and beseech you to deprive 
him of the means of stealing advantage from you. 

We know your Clemency's holy modesty. Let him not 
press upon you words unfit for your hearing, or give his 
noisy utterance to what is foreign to the office and name of 
priest, or say to you what is unseemly. Since he must have a 
good reputation at least with those who are outside, 6 may 
your Clemency condescend to recall what is his reputation 
among his own fellow citizens. It is shameful to say and 
immodest to repeat how disgraceful is the rumor which does 
him harm. Shame over this should have kept him silent, and, 
if he had some of a bishop's conscience, he would prefer 
the Church's peace and concord to his own ambition and 
inclination. But, far removed from all embarrassment, send- 
ing letters through Paschasius, an excommunicated individual, 
the standard-bearer of his madness, he sows confusion, and 
tries to excite even heathens and abandoned characters, 

We therefore beg that through the removal of this very 
troublesome person you will restore peace to us bishops and 
to the Roman people whose security has been interrupted 
and whose condition at present keeps them in uncertainty 
and suspense, now that the city prefect has made an appeal. 
Attaining this, let us in continual accord offer thanks to 
God the almighty Father and Christ, also the Lord God. 

6 Cf. 1 Tim. 3.7. 



216 SAINT AMBROSE 

4L To the most dement and most Christian Emperors and 
the most glorious and most blessed Princes, 
Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius, the holy 
Council which met at Aquileia (June, 381) 

We are unable, even with the most overflowing return of 
thanks, to match the benefits of your Piety, most clement 
Emperors, most blessed and glorious Princes, Gratian, Valen- 
tinian, and Theodosius, beloved of God the Father and of 
His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. After many seasons and 
various persecutions which the Arians brought upon all 
Catholics, and especially Lucius, 1 who attacked monks and 
virgins with unholy slaughter, and Demophilus, 2 too, a dread 
source of impiety, all the churches of God, particularly in the 
East, have been restored to the Catholics; and in the West 
just two heretics have been found to oppose the holy council. 
Who, then, would feel able to make acknowledgment ade- 
quate to your favors? 

Although we cannot express your favors in words, we still 
desire to compensate them by the prayers of the council. 
Although in all of our several churches we celebrate vigils 
each day before God for your Empire, yet assembled to- 
gether, thinking no service more glorious, we offer thanks to 

1 Lucius was forced upon the Church at Alexandria by Paliadius, 
governor of the province, in place of Peter, the duly elected successor 
of Athanasius. He was later expelled from the see he had usurped. 
Cf. Theodoret, H. E. 4.19; Socrates, H. E. 4.37. 

2 Demophilus, originally Bishop of Boaea (probably in Thrace) , was 
deposed for his Arianism. In 370 he was elected bishop of Con- 
stantinople by the Arian party and was supported by the Emperor 
Valens, who banished Evagrius. In 380, at the accession of Theodosius, 
he was asked to subscribe to the Nicene Creed if he wished to maintain 
his see. He refused, and along with Lucius and others he conducted 
Arian worship outside the walls of Constantinople until his death in 
386. Cf. Socrates, H. E. 4.37; Ambrose, De fide 1.6.45. 



SYNODAL LETTERS 217 

our almighty God for the Empire and for your peace and 
well-being, because through you peace and concord have 
been shed upon us. 

In only two small corners of the West, that is, on the 
borders of southern Dacia and in Moesia, did there appear to 
be murmurs against the faith. Now, after the vote of the 
council, we feel that these should at once be allowed the 
indulgence of your Clemency. Throughout all territories and 
districts and village departments as far as the ocean, the 
communion of the faithful remains one and unsullied. And 
Arians in the East who had violently laid hold of churches 
have, we learn with great joy and happiness, been ejected, 
and the sacred temples of God are attended by Catholics 
alone. 

But, since the envy of the Devil never subsides, word 
comes to our ears that there are among the Catholics them- 
selves frequent dissensions and restless discord. All our feelings 
are stirred at learning that many new [disturbances] have 
taken place, and that persons are now molested, who should 
have been relieved, men who remained always in communion 
with us. In fact, Timothy, 3 Bishop of the Church at Alex- 
andria, and Paulinus of Antioch, 4 who always maintained an 
unbroken concord of communion with us, are said to be 
distressed by the dissensions of others, whose faith was 

3 The nature of the difficulty with Timothy is uncertain. Tillemont 
(op. cit. 10.139) says the question probably concerns the successor to 
the see of Antioch. The members of the Council of Aquileia who 
addressed themselves to the emperor seem not to have heard of the 
outcome of the recent Council of Constantinople, when the death of 
Meletius was followed by the consecration of the presbyter Flavian and 
the irregular consecration of Maximus. CL Dudden, op, cit. 206-212. 

4 A reference to the long schism of Antioch, which lasted from the 
deposition of Eustathius by the Arians in 331 until 415. Cf. Theodoret, 
H. E. 3.2. 



218 SAINT AMBROSE 

steadfast in former times. If it is possible, and if these people 
are recommended by the fullness of their faith, we should 
like to have them added to our fellowship, on the condition 
that our associates in the ancient communion may keep their 
privilege. Our concern for them is not unnecessary, first, 
because the fellowship of communion ought to be without 
offense, and second, because we have long received letters 
from both parties, and especially from those in the Church 
at Antioch who were heretics. 

Indeed, if hostile interference had not been a hindrance, 
we should have arranged to send some of our own number 
to act as mediators and judges in restoring peace, if possible. 
But, since our desires could not take effect at that time, 
because of the troubles of the state, we feel that we should 
offer your Piety our prayers, asking that by mutual agree- 
ment, when a bishop dies, the rights of the Church should 
belong to the survivor, and no other consecration be forcibly 
attempted. Therefore, we request you, O most clement and 
Christian Princes, to permit a council of all Catholic bishops 
at Alexandria, where they may more fully discuss together 
and decide to what persons communion is to be granted and 
with whom it is to be maintained. 

Although we have always upheld the direction and order 
of the Church at Alexandria, and in accord with the manner 
and custom of our predecessors have maintained communion 
with it in indissoluble fellowship even down to the present 
time, yet, that others may not seem less esteemed, who have 
sought our communion by an agreement which we desire to 
continue, or lest we neglect a short-cut to peace and fellow- 
ship with the faithful, we entreat you that, when they have 
discussed these matters in a full assembly, the decrees of the 



SYNODAL LETTERS 2 1 9 

bishops may be furthered by the help of your Piety. Allow 
us to be notified, that our minds may not waver in uncer- 
tainty, but that joyously and peacefully we may give thanks 
before almighty God for your Piety, not only that disbelief 
has been eliminated but faith and harmony restored to 
Catholics. This the Churches of Africa and Gaul beg you 
through their legates, that you may make the bishops of the 
whole world your debtors, although the debt already due 
your Virtue is by no means slight. 

To entreat your Clemency and, to obtain our requests, we 
have sent as legates our brethren and fellow priests whom 
we ask you to condescend to hear graciously and allow to 
return speedily. 



42. To the most blessed Emperor Theodosius, most dement 

prince, Ambrose and the other bishops of Italy 

(Autumn, 381) 

We are aware that your saintly mind has been dedicated 
to the service of almighty God with unblemished and pure 
faith. But through your latest good offices you have perfected 
your dedication by bringing back to the churches the Cath- 
olics, O Emperor Augustus, Would that you had brought 
back the Catholics to their old sense of reverence, so that 
they would make no changes contrary to the regulations 
of their predecessors, neither rashly doing away with customs 
that should be preserved, nor preserving what should be 
abolished. More grievously, perhaps, than ill-advisedly have 
we lamented, revered Emperor, the fact that it has been 
easier to drive out the heretics than to establish concord 



220 SAINT AMBROSE 

among the Catholics. It is impossible to explain how great 
confusion has recently prevailed. 

Some time ago we wrote to you regarding the city of 
Antioch, which had two bishops, Paulinus and Meletius, who 
we knew were in agreement on faith. 1 Therefore, we thought 
that peace and concord between them would protect the 
interests of Church discipline, or, at least, that if either of 
them died and the other survived, there would be no sub- 
stitution of another person in the place of the deceased. 
Now, however, upon the death of Meletius, while Paulinus 
is still living a man who has remained in communion with 
us by the peaceful rule of his congregation under our 
predecessors contrary to what is right, and contrary to 
Church discipline, someone is being planted in Meletius' 
place, one is being imposed rather than installed. 

This is being carried out, moreover, with the consent and 
agreement of Nectarius, 2 whose ordination does not appear to 
us to be regular. In the council recently held, 3 Bishop 
Maximus 4 revealed by letters from Peter, of holy memory, 
that the members of the Church of Alexandria were in 
communion with him, and he proved that he had retired 
for the ceremony of his ordination to his own home because 

1 Two rival bishops were in Antioch: Euzoius, installed by Constantius' 
orders, and Meletius, legitimately elected by his colleagues. But a 
group of persons openly separated from these two and put themselves 
under a certain Paulinus. The Council of Alexandria had decided 
regarding the doctrine of the contending parties that Paulinus' and 
Meletius' adherents were in agreement, although the former, following 
the terminology of Nicaea, accepted the perfected synonymity of ousia 
and hypostdsis. They refused to recognize or accept the Meletian for- 
mula, 'Three hypostases in the Trinity/ Cf. Palanque and others, op. 
cit. 305. 

2 Nectarius, a nobleman of Tarsus, was, like Ambrose, unbaptized when 
he was elected Bishop of Constantinople in 381 at the resignation of 
Gregory Nazianzen. 

3 The Council of Aquileia (381) . 

4 Maximus of Alexandria had been irregularly consecrated in 380 by 
some Egyptian bishops, who brought the authorization of the con- 
secration from Peter of Alexandria during the illness of Gregory. 



SYNODAL LETTERS 221 

the Arians still had possession of the basilicas of the church. 
We had no occasion, best of princes, to question his epis- 
copacy, since he proved that he resisted violence brought to 
bear on him by several of the laity and the clergy. 5 

Nevertheless, we thought that your Clemency should be 
informed so that we would not $eem to have presumed to 
pronounce finally upon an affair when the parties concerned 
were not present. Consultation should be held for the sake 
of public peace and concord. Actually, we have observed 
that Gregory [when he abdicated his see], in accord with the 
tradition of the Fathers, laid no claim to the office of priest 
of the Church at Constantinople. In the synod, therefore, 
whose attendance seemed binding upon the bishops of the 
whole world, we agreed to decide nothing with haste. Yet, 
those who refused to attend the general council are said to 
have met at the same time at Constantinople. When this 
assembly learned that Maximus had come to their synod to 
plead his case (although the council had not been lawfully 
proclaimed in the manner of our predecessors, like Athanasius, 
of holy memory, and like Peter, earlier both bishops of the 
Church at Alexandria and as several of the Eastern bishops 
had done before, appearing to have recourse to the judgment 
of Rome, of Italy, and of all the West), when they, as we 
said, found Maximus wanting to make trial against those 
who had refused him a bishopric, they surely should have 
waited for our opinion. We do not challenge the right of an 
examination into such a matter, but there should have been 
a meeting for a united decision. 

Finally, there should have been an agreement as to whether 
it seemed necessary to recall him before transferring the 
office of priest to another. The procedure was important 
especially to those by whom Maximus claimed he had been 

5 In favoring Maximus, Ambrose and the Western bishops were not in 
possession of the full facts of the matter. 



222 SAINT AMBROSE 

deserted or harmfully attacked. Since our assembly had 
received Bishop Maximus into communion, agreeing that 
he had been ordained by Catholic bishops, we did not think 
that he should be removed from his claim to the bishopric of 
Constantinople. We thought that his claim should be weighed 
by the parties present. However, since our people recently 
learned that Nectarius was ordained at Constantinople, we 
do not see how we can unite our communion with the 
Eastern countries, especially since it is said that Nectarius 
left there, deprived of the fellowship of communion by the 
same persons by whom he had been ordained. 6 

This is no mean difficulty. The trouble causes us anguish 
not out of any personal interest and ambition, but we are 
disturbed over the tearing and rending asunder of the union 
of the faithful. We do not see how agreement can be reached 
unless either he is returned to Constantinople who was first 
ordained, or there is at least a joint council in Rome of the 
East and West regarding the ordination of the two persons 
in question. 

It does not seem unfitting, O Augustus, that a treatise 
be drawn up by the head of the Roman Church and the 
neighboring and Italian bishops, who thought that the judg- 
ment of the one bishop, Acholius, was so worth waiting for 
that they presumed to summon him to Constantinople from 
the West. If protection was provided for this one man alone, 
how much more is it to be provided for many persons? 

Yet, having been advised to write to the power of your 
Clemency by our most excellent Prince, the brother of your 
Piety, 7 we ask that where there is one communion you may 
wish a judgment in common and agreement in perfect 
accord. 



6 This was a false rumor. 

7 Gratian. 



SYNODAL LETTERS 

43. To the blessed Emperor Theodosius, most clement prince, 
Ambrose and the other bishops of Italy (381) 

The knowledge of your faith, spread throughout the world, 
has won the deep affection of our hearts. And now, to 
enhance even more the glory of your reign, since it seems 
you have brought back unity to the Churches of East and 
West, we have thought that your Clemency should be 
petitioned by our letters and instructed also regarding the 
affairs of the Church, O Emperor most serene and faithful! 
There has been cause for sorrow between Eastern and West- 
ern people because the sacred communion of their con- 
gregations has been interrupted. 

We pass over in silence those whose error and sin caused 
this, that we may not appear to be weaving tales and idle 
talk. We are not sorry to have tried a course of action the 
neglect of which might have been cause for censure. We are 
often blamed for seeming not to value highly unison with 
the Eastern brethren, and for seeming to refuse their good 
will. 

As a matter of fact, however, we have thought that our 
endeavors should be publicly recognized as being concerned 
not for Italy, which has been at peace for a long time and 
free from the Arians, and is not disturbed by any trouble 
with any other heretics not, we repeat, for ourselves* We do 
not look for that which concerns us, but that which concerns 
all, not for the interests of Gaul and Africa, which possess a 
united friendship of all their bishops, but we are anxious 
that these matters which pertain to the East and have 
troubled our communion may be discussed before a synod 
and every difficulty removed from our midst. 

Some matters pertain to those persons of whom your 
Clemency has deigned to write; others, to those who are 
trying to introduce some sort of dogma into the Church, 



224 SAINT AMBROSE 

said to be the teaching of Apollinaris; and these items, which 
should have been cut out by the roots while both parties were 
present, greatly distress us. Then, if a person is spreading a 
new dogma and is found guilty of error, he should not hide 
himself under the general name of the faith, but, immediately, 
because he does not have title to it through his teaching 
authority, he should lay aside his priestly office and title, and 
no materials or devices for treachery should remain for those 
who, in the future, wish to deceive others. If one is not found 
guilty when the parties are present, for by your august and 
princely response your Clemency has defined [the limits of 
discussion for us], he will seize upon some loophole of com- 
plaint which will have to be reckoned with. 

For these reasons, therefore, we have asked for a council 
of bishops so that no one can allege falsehood while members 
are absent, and that whatever is true may be discussed in 
the council. Thus, no suspicion of intention or willingness 
falls on those who have done everything in the presence of 
all parties. 

We have prepared this rescript not by way of definition, 
but of instruction, and in asking for a judgment we do not 
advance a pre-judgment. Nor must any disapproval of 
those parties be presumed when the bishops, whose absence 
has been noted frequently, are summoned to the council, 
because now the common good is being consulted. We 
ourselves have never thought there was any disapproval 
expressed when a bishop of the Church at Constantinople, 
one Paulus by name, called for a synod of Eastern and 
Western bishops in Achaia. 

Your Clemency notices that this is not an unreasonable 
demand, for it has been asked for by the Eastern bishops. 
But, because there is a disturbance in Illyricum, safer places 
have been sought on the coast. Plainly, we do not, as it were, 
start something out of the ordinary, but we are keeping the 



SYNODAL LETTERS 225 

pattern established for councils by Athanasius, of holy memory, 
who was like a pillar of faith, and by the ancient fathers of 
times past. We have not torn up boundary stones which our 
Fathers laid down, we do not violate the laws of the 
communion to which we are heirs, but, preserving the honor 
due your power, we merely show ourselves zealous for peace 
and repose. 



44. To our lord, dearly beloved Brother Pope Siricius, 
Ambrose, Sabinus, Bassianus, and others (c. 389 ) l 

In the letter of your Holiness we recognize the vigilance 
of the good shepherd, for you carefully keep the door which 
has been entrusted to you, and with holy anxiety you guard 
the sheepfold of Christ, worthy to have the Lord's sheep hear 
and follow you. Since you know so well the sheep of Christ, 
you will readily catch the wolves and meet them like a wary 
shepherd that they may not scatter the Lord's flock by 
their habitual unbelief and mournful barking. 

This we praise and heartily commend, our Lord and 
dearly beloved Brother. We are not surprised that the Lord's 
flock was frightened by the raving of wolves in whom they 
did not recognize the voice of Christ. For it is brutish barking 
to show no favor for virginity or claim for chastity, to wish 
to group all deeds indiscriminately, to abolish the different 
degrees of merit, and to intimate a certain poverty in heavenly 
rewards, as if Christ had but one palm to give, as if countless 
claims to reward did not exist in great numbers. 

They pretend that they are giving honor to marriage. 
What praise is possible to marriage if virginity receives no 
distinction? We do not say that marriage was not sanctified 

1 Written at the Synod of Milan as a defense of virginity against 
Jovinian. 



226 SAINT AMBROSE 

by Christ, since the Word of God says: The two shall 
become one flesh' 2 and one spirit. But we are bora before 
we are brought to our final goal, and the mystery of God's 
operation is more excellent than the remedy for human 
weakness. Quite rightly is a good wife praised, but a pious 
virgin is more rightly preferred, for the Apostle says: c He 
who gives his daughter in marriage does well, and he who 
does not give her does better. The one thinks about the 
things of God, the other about the things of the world.' 3 
The one is bound by marriage bonds, the other is free from 
bonds; one is under the law, the other under grace. Marriage 
is good: through it the means of human continuity are 
found. But virginity is better: through it are attained the 
inheritance of a heavenly kingdom and a continuity of 
heavenly rewards. Through a woman distress entered the 
world; through a virgin salvation came upon it. Lastly, 
Christ chose for Himself the special privilege of virginity and 
set forth the benefit of chastity, manifesting in Himself what 
He had chosen in His mother. 

How great is the madness of their mournful barking when 
the same persons say that Christ could not have been born 
of a virgin and also assert that virgins remain among 
womankind which has given birth to human offspring ! Does 
Christ grant to others what they say He cannot grant to 
Himself? Although He took a body, although He became 
man to redeem man and recall him from death, still, being 
God, He came to earth in an unusual way so that, as He 
had said: 'Behold I make all things new,' 4 He might thus 
be born from the womb of an immaculate virgin, and be 
believed to be, as it is written: 'God with us.' 5 Those on 

2 Matt. 19.5. 

3 1 Cor. 7.38. 

4 Isa. 43.19. 

5 Matt. 1.23. 



SYNODAL LETTERS 227 

the path of evil are known to say : c She conceived as a virgin 
but she did not bring forth as a virgin.' How could she 
conceive as a virgin but be unable to bring forth as a virgin? 
Conception always precedes; bringing forth follows. 

If they do not believe the teaching of the clergy, let 
them believe the words of Christ. Let them believe the 
instruction of the angels saying: Tor nothing will be im- 
possible with God.' 6 Let them believe the creed of the Apostles 
which the Church of Rome keeps and guards in its entirety. 
Mary heard the words of the angel, and she who had said 
before: 'How shall this be?' not questioning faith in the 
generation, later replied : 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord ; 
be it done to me according to thy word/ 7 This is the virgin 
who conceived in the womb, the virgin who brought forth 
a son. Thus Scripture says: 'Behold a virgin shall conceive 
and bear a son,' 8 and it declares not only that a virgin shall 
conceive, but also that a virgin shall bring forth. 

What is that gate of the sanctuary, that outer gate facing 
the East and remaining closed: c And no man,' it says, 'shall 
pass through it except the God of Israel 5 ? 9 Is not Mary the 
gate through whom the Redeemer entered this world? This 
is the gate of justice, as He Himself said: 'Permit us to 
fulfill all justice.' 10 Holy Mary is the gate of which it is 
written: 'The Lord will pass through it, and it will be shut,' 11 
after birth, for as a virgin she conceived and gave birth. 

Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way 
contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, 
when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him 
and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their 

6 Luke 1.37. 

7 Luke 34.7,38. 

8 Isa. 7.14. 

9 Ezech. 44.20. 

10 Matt. 3.15. 

11 Ezech. 44.20. 



228 SAINT AMBROSE 

source. 12 It is not past belief that a virgin gave birth when 
we read that a rock issued water, 13 and the waves of the sea 
were made solid as a wall. 14 It is not past belief that a man 
came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing 
stream, 15 iron floated on water, 16 a man walked upon the 
waters. 17 If the waters bore a man, could not a virgin give 
birth to a man? What man? Him of whom we read: 'The 
Lord will send them a man, who will save them, and the 
Lord will be known in Egypt.' 18 In the Old Testament a 
Hebrew virgin led an army through the sea; 19 in the New 
Testament a king's daughter was chosen to be the heavenly 
entrance to salvation. 

What more? Let us add further praises of widowhood, 
since, after relating the miraculous birth from a virgin, the 
Gospel has the story of the widow Anna, 'who lived with 
her husband seven years from her maidenhood, and by 
herself as a widow to eighty-four years. She never left the 
temple, with fasting and prayers worshiping day and 
night.' 20 

Quite rightly do some persons look with contempt upon 
widowhood, which observes fasts, while they deplore the 
fact that at some time or other they were mortified by fasts; 
they take revenge for the injury they did themselves, being 
anxious through constant feasts and habits of luxury to keep 
away the pain of abstinence. They do nothing more than 
condemn themselves out of their own mouth. 

Such persons even fear that their former fasting will be 

12 Cf. PS. 113.3. 

13 Cf. Exod. 17.6. 

14 Cf. Exod. 14.22. 

15 Cf. Num. 20.11. 

16 Cf. 4 Kings 6.6. 

17 Cf. Matt. 14.26. 

18 Isa. 19.20. 

19 Cf. Exod. 14.21. 

20 Luke 2.36,37. 



SYNODAL LETTERS 229 

charged to them. Let them have their choice. If they have 
ever fasted, let them suffer the hardship of their good deed; 
if never, let them admit their intemperance and wantonness. 
So they say that Paul was a teacher of wantonness. Pray, 
who will be a teacher of sobriety if he taught wantonness, 
for he chastized his body and brought it to subjection 21 and 
by many fasts said that he had rendered the worship which is 
due to Christ. He did so not to praise himself and his deeds, 
but to teach us what example we must follow. Did he give 
us instruction in wantonness when he said: 'Why, as if still 
living do you lay down the rules: "Do not touch; nor handle; 
nor taste!" things that must all perish in their use 5 ? 22 And 
he also said that we must live 'Not in indulgence of the body, 
not in any honor to the satisfying and love of the flesh, not 
in the lusts of error; but in the Spirit by whom we are 
renewed.' 23 

If the Apostle said too little, let them hear the Prophet 
saying: C I afflicted my soul with fasting.' 24 He who does not 
fast is uncovered and naked and exposed to wounds. Finally, 
if Adam had covered himself with fasting he would not 
have become naked. 25 Nineve freed herself from death by 
fasting. 26 The Lord Himself said: 'But this kind of demon 
will be cast out only by prayer and fasting.' 27 

Why should we say more to [you] our master and teacher, 
since those very persons have paid a price befitting their 
disloyalty, having even come here so that there might be no 
place where they were not condemned. And they proved 
that they were Manichaeans in truth by not believing that 

21 Cf. 1 Cor. 9.27. 

22 Col. 2.20-22. 

23 Cf. Tit. 3.3-5. 

24 Ps. 68.11. 

25 Cf. Gen. 3.7. 

26 Cf. Jonas 3.5. 

27 Matt. 17.20. 



230 SAINT AMBROSE 

He came forth from a virgin. What madness, pray tell, is 
this, equal almost to that of the present-day Jews? If they 
do not believe that He came, neither do they believe that He 
took a body. Thus, He was seen only in imagination, in 
imagination He was crucified. But He was crucified for us 
in truth; in truth He is our Redeemer. 

A Manichaean is one who denies the truth, who denies 
Christ's Incarnation. To such there is no remission of sins. 
It is the impiety of the Manichaeans which the most clement 
emperor has abominated and all who have met them run 
from them as from a plague. Witnesses of this are our 
brethren and fellow priests, Crescens, Leopardus, and Alex- 
ander, men imbued with the Holy Spirit, men who brought 
upon them the condemnation of all and drove them as 
fugitives from the city of Milan. 

Therefore, may your Holiness know that those whom you 
condemned Jovinian, Auxentius, Germinator, Felix, Plo- 
tinus, Genial, Martian, Januarius, and Ingeniosus have also 
been condemned by us in accord with your judgment. 

May our almighty God keep you safe and prosperous, 
O Lord, dearly beloved Brother. 

Signed : 

I, Eventius, Bishop, greet your Holiness in the Lord and 
sign this letter. 

Maximus, Bishop 

Felix, Bishop 

Theodorus, Bishop 

Constantius, Bishop 

By order of my lord Geminianus, Bishop, in his presence, 
I, Aper, Presbyter, sign. 

Eustasius, Bishop, and all the Orders sign. 




LETTERS TO PRIESTS 



45. Ambrose to Horontianus 1 (c. 387) 

SHE PROPHETS foretold the gathering of the Gentiles 
and the future rearing of the Church, yet in the 
Church there is not only the continual progress of 
courageous souls, but also the failure of the weak and their 
conversion anew. Therefore, we can conclude from the 
prophetic books that the fair and strong soul proceeds without 
stumbling, but the weak one falls and recovers from her falls 
and amends her way. 

As we read in the Canticle of Canticles of the continual 
progress of the blessed soul, so let us consider in Micheas 
the conversion of the fallen soul of which we began to speak. 
Not without good reason have the Prophet's words, 'And 
thou, Bethlehem, house of Ephrata/ 2 disturbed you. How 
can Christ's birthplace be a house of wrath? Though the 
name of the place expresses this, certain mysterious operations 
are being illustrated. 

1 For the letters to Horontianus, a priest of Milan, probably Syrian in 
origin, and those to Irenaeus, a layman, the sequence given by J. 
Palanque, 'Deux correspondents de S. Ambroise/ Revue des etudes 
latines II (1933) 152-163 has been followed. He groups all the letters 
to Horontianus around the year 387. 

2 Mich. 5.2. 

231 



232 SAINT AMBROSE 

Let us first consider what meaning Micheas has in Latin. 
It means 'Who is from God,' or, as we find elsewhere : 'Who 
is he, the son of the Morasthite,' 3 in other words [son of] 
the heir. 4 Who is the heir but the Son of God who says: 
'All things have been delivered to me by my Father/ 5 who, 
being the heir, wished us to be co-heirs? It is well [to ask] : 
'Who is he?' for He is not one of the people, but one chosen 
to receive the grace of God, in whom speaks the Holy 
Spirit, who began to prophesy in the days of Joathan, Achaz, 
and Ezekias, kings of Juda.' 6 By this order is signified the 
progress of the vision, for it goes from the times of evil kings 
to those of the good king. 

Since the afflicted soul was first oppressed under evil kings, 
it seems best to consider what progress in conversion she 
experienced. In her weakness she was overthrown, and all 
her fences became a path for passers-by and for the inroads 
of passion. Spent with luxury and pleasure, she was trodden 
down and banished from the presence of the Lord: 'Her 
tower was decayed,' 7 that tower which, as we read in the 
song of Isaias, was placed in the midst of a choice vineyard. 8 
For the tower is desolate when the vine withers and her 
flock wanders, but when the verdure of the vine returns or 
the sheep come back, it grows bright, for nothing is more 
desolate than iniquity, nothing more bright than justice. 

To this tower the sheep is recalled when the soul is recalled 
from her downfall, and in that sheep returns the reign of 
Christ which is the beginning, for He is the beginning and 
the end, and the beginning of salvation. 9 The soul is first 



3 Mich. 1.1. 



4 Ambrose here agrees with the interpretation of Jerome (Pro. in 
Mich., PL 25.1151-1154) that Micheas means humilis, and Morasthi 



means coheres. 

5 Matt. 11.27. 

6 Mich. 1.1. 

7 Mich. 4.8. 

8 Cf. Isa. 5.2. 

9 Cf. Apoc. 1.8. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 233 

rebuked for having grievously transgressed, and she is asked: 
c Why hast thou known evil? Hast thou no king in thee? 510 
In other words, you had a king to rule and guard you; you 
should not have strayed from the path of justice, or left the 
ways of the Lord, for He imparted to you sense and reason. 
Where were your thoughts and counsels with which you 
could have by your own power guarded against unrighteous- 
ness and warded off iniquity? 'Why have your sorrows 
overwhelmed you like a woman that is in labor, 511 that you 
might bring forth iniquity and conceive injustice? There is 
no greater sorrow than to have a man wound his conscience 
with the sword of sin; there is no heavier burden than the 
load of sin and the weight of transgression. It bows down 
the soul, it bends it to the ground, so that it cannot raise 
itself. Heavy, my son, exceedingly heavy are the burdens of 
sin. Thus that woman in the Gospel who had been bent 
over, giving the semblance of a heavily laden soul, could be 
raised up only by Christ. 12 

To such a soul it is said: 'Act manfully, and approach, 
O daughter of Sion, that you may bring forth,' 13 for the 
pains of childbirth work tribulation, and tribulation en- 
durance, and endurance tried virtue, and tried virtue hope. 
And hope does not disappoint forever.' 14 At one and the 
same time all that is opposed to virtue is plucked up and 
cast forth, lest the seeds remain behind and revive, budding 
forth again into new fruits. 

Not without reason was she given horns and hoofs, to 
bruise all the sheaves of the threshing floor, like the calf of 
Libanus, 15 for, unless the sheaves are bruised and the straw 
winnowed, the corn within cannot appear and be separated. 

10 Mich. 4.9. 

11 Ibid. 

12 Cf. Luke 13.11. 

13 Mich. 4.10. 

14 Rom. 5.3,4. 

15 Cf. Mich. 4.13. 



234 SAINT AMBROSE 

Let the soul that would advance in virtue first bruise and 
thresh out its superfluous passions that at the harvest it may 
have its fruits to show. How many weeds choke the good 
seed! These first must be rooted out^so that they will not 
destroy the fruitful crop of the soul. 

The careful guardian of the soul then sees how he may 
restrain her in her pleasures, and cut off her desires, to 
prevent her being overwhelmed with delight in them. The 
correction of the father who does not spare the rod is useful, 
that he may render his son's soul obedient to the precepts of 
salvation. 16 He punishes with a rod, as we read: C I shall 
punish their offenses with a rod.' 17 Therefore, one who with 
a rod strikes an Israelite's soul on the cheek instructs her 
by the Lord's punishment in the discipline of patience. No 
one who is chastened and corrected need lose hope, for one 
who loves his son chastises him. 18 No one should despair of 
a remedy. 

Lo! where you had the house 'of one seeing wrath/ 19 
there is the house of bread; 20 in the place of cruelty, there 
is now piety; where there was the slaughter of the Innocents, 
there is the redemption of all, as it is written: 'And thou, 
Bethlehem Ephrata, art not the least among the princes of 
Juda: out of thee shall he come forth the ruler in Israel. 321 
Bethlehem is the house of bread, Ephrata the house of one 
seeing wrath, for this is the meaning of those names. In 
Bethlehem Christ was born of Mary, but Bethlehem is the 
same as Ephrata. 22 Christ, therefore, was born in the house 
of wrath, yet it is no longer a house of wrath, but a house 
of bread, because it has received Him, the Bread which 

16 Cf. Prov. 13.24. 

17 Ps. 88.35. 

18 Cf. Eccli. 30.1. 

19 Ephrata. 

20 Bethlehem. 

21 Mich. 5.2. 

22 Cf. Luke 2.6. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 235 

came down from heaven. 23 But Ephrata is the house of one 
seeing wrath, because while Herod searched there for Christ 
he ordered the Innocents slain; therefore: 'A voice was 
heard in Rama, Rachel weeping for her children.' 24 

Let no one be afraid now, because that repose which 
David sought has been heard of in Ephrata, and it has been 
found in the fields of the woods. 25 The nations met in the 
woods, but, after they believed in Christ, it became fruitful, 
for it received the fruit of the blessed womb. 26 And Rachel 
died in childbirth because, even then, as the patriarch's 
wife, she saw Herod's wrath which spared not the tenderest 
years. Likewise, in Ephrata she gave birth to that Benjamin 
of surpassing beauty, the last in the order of mystery, namely, 
Paul, who caused no small grief to his mother before his 
birth, for he persecuted her sons. She died and was buried 
there, that we, dying and being buried with Christ, may 
rise in the Church. Hence, according to another interpretation 
Ephrata means 'enriched' or 'filled with fruits.' 

Now, here in the book of the Prophet we find the words : 
Thou art oligostos, 3 that is, c thou art among the few,' but 
in Matthew: And thou, Bethlehem, house of Juda, are not 
among the few.' In one expression is 'house of Juda,' in this, 
'house of Ephrata,' and a difference only of words, not of 
meaning, for inwardly Judea saw the wrath and outwardly 
she suffered it. She is among the few, for there are who 
enter the house of bread by the narrow way. But she who 
knows not Christ is not among the few, among those who 
make progress. Nor is she the least, she who is the house of 
benediction, the recipient of divine grace. Yet in this she is 
the least, that what one offers to Christ he seems to offer to 

23 Cf. John 6.50. 

24 Matt. 2.18, 

25 Cf. Ps. 131.3-6. 

26 Cf. Luke 1.42. 



236 SAINT AMBROSE 

her. One who seeks the Church seeks Christ, and He is 
either despised or honored in every least one, for He says 
Himself: 'What you have done to the least of these my 
brethren, you did for me.' 27 

That Bethlehem is the very same as Ephrata a passage in 
Genesis makes clear, when it says : 'So Rachel died, and was 
buried on the way to Ephrata, that is, Bethlehem. 528 The 
tomb of holy Rachel is on the road, for she is a type of the 
Church so that passers-by ^may say: 'The blessing of the Lord 
be upon you !' 29 and 'Coming they shall come with rejoicing.' 30 

Thus, every soul which receives the bread which comes 
down from heaven is a house of bread, the bread of Christ, 
being nourished and having its heart strengthened by the 
support of that heavenly bread which dwells within it. Hence, 
Paul says: 'We are all one bread.' 31 Every faithful soul is 
Bethlehem, just as that is called Jerusalem which has the 
peace and tranquility of the Jerusalem on high which is in 
heaven. That is the true bread which, after it was broken 
into bits, has fed all men. 

The fifth version 32 has 'house of bread,' because Beth 
means 'a house,* and 'leem' means 'bread.' The words were 
omitted from the other versions, I imagine, because of the 
unbelief of the Jews who feared to convict themselves, or 
possibly they were removed by others. 

We learn also that Bethlehem is of the tribe of Juda from 
the reading in the Book of Judges where the Levite took a 
concubine from Bethlehem of Juda, and the concubine was 
angry with him and returned to her father's house in 
Bethlehem of Juda. 

27 Matt. 25.40. 

28 Gen. 55,19. 

29 Ps. 128.8. 

30 Ps. 126.6. 

31 1 Cor. 10.17. 

32 Ambrose here appears to be using a copy of Origen's Hexapla. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 237 

Christ's going forth is from the days of eternity, 33 for 
eternity commenced for us when He went forth to run His 
course and gave to Israel the days of salvation. 34 When Christ 
comes to a soul there is fraitfulness and childbearing. So 
she came to the Church, she who brought forth more than 
she who had sons, 35 bringing forth seven who are law-abiding, 
tranquil, peacemakers. That soul begins to conceive and 
Christ is formed in her if she welcomes His arrival and feeds 
on His riches. As a result, she has no needs, and other 
souls, seeing her, return to the path of salvation. 

'She shall have peace, 536 but it is tried only by temptations. 
Then only will her peace and tranquility be proved when 
she has shut out or repulsed vain thoughts, when she has 
subdued all the emotions of rising passion, when distress, 
persecution, hunger, peril, the sword beset her. 'Then,' it 
says, "there will be peace,' because in the midst of all these 
we overcome through Him who loved us, for we trust in 
Him that neither death nor the power of temptations shall 
tear and separate us from. His love. 37 Then He will send 
temptation that the just may be tried. The Lord wills to send 
temptation, not to beguile anyone, but because many who are 
weak are vanquished by temptation and those who are 
strong are tried. 

Then will come the dew from the Lord, 38 then repose, 
then will the soul of the just be like 'the young lion among 
the flocks of sheep. 339 I have no doubt that on the model of 
the Gospel this refers to Christ, for He Himself said: Then 
the just will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of 

33 Cf. Mich. 5.2. 

34 Cf. Ps. 18.6. 

35 Cf. Isa. 54.1. 

36 Mich. 5.5. 

37 Cf. Rom. 8.35. 

38 Cf. Mich. 5.7. 

39 Mich. 5.8. 



238 SAINT AMBROSE 

their Father.' 40 Then shall be tamed the chariot car, that Is, 
the wild coursing and the motions of his body; 41 there will 
be an end of 'Conflicts without and anxieties within'; 42 
everywhere, within and without, there shall be calm; no one 
shall feel repugnance or resist this good will, when the 
intervening wall is broken down, when both are made one, 43 
for the obedience of the flesh will end all discord. 

But, if a weak soul, such as Israel according to the fleshy 
stumbles and Is shaken by persecutions and separates herself 
any distance at all from the charity of Christ, she Is caught 
up and reproved as faithless, as ungrateful, as unbelieving, 
for, after being freed from the vanities of this world, she has 
looked back and suffered a relapse. Yet, she was not 
required to offer gifts or sacrifice bulls, but only to know 
the good and to act justly: 'It was shown thee, O man,' 
[he says] c what is good and what the Lord requireth of thee. 
Only do judgment and justice, love mercy, and be prepared 
to walk with thy Lord. 544 But, since the weak soul has not 
kept these commands, the Lord says: 4 Woe is me, for I am 
become as one who gathers the straw at harvest time, and 
like a grape in vintage time.' When the Prophet hears these 
words by which God has spoken, he says to the soul: 'Alas 
for me, O soul, that the man full of fear has gone from the 
earth/ 45 These are as the words of the Lord pitying the 
punishment which will come upon sin, and weeping over our 
transgressions. 

Then the soul who hears that she will not gather the fruit 
of her seeds, and, in losing the harvest, will find no strength 
for herself; that she will press the olive but will not find the 
oil of gladness or drink the wine of pleasure; finding, also, 

40 Matt. 13.43. 

41 Cf. Mich. 5.10. 

42 2 Cor. 7.5. 

43 Eph. 2.14. 

44 Mich. 6.8. 

45 Mich. 7.1,2. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 239 

that the deeds of the flesh are full of blood, full of deception, 
cheating, and fraud, empty sho\ts of affection and calculated 
guile, and all those of her own house her enemies; that she 
must guard the movements of her companion body, for 
they are grievous enemies of the soul is converted and 
begins to hope in God, and, knowing that the flesh is truly 
her enemy, she says to it: 'Rejoice not thou, my enemy, 
over me, because I have fallen. I shall arise. When I sit in 
darkness, the Lord shall enlighten me.' 46 

When she finds that some power mocks her to prevent her 
following a better path, and tramples her to deliver her to 
the destruction of the flesh, 47 that she may be afflicted with 
diverse evils, which are decreed either by the Lord in satis- 
faction for her sins or by the Evil One out of jealousy at 
her conversion, to afflict and call her back to himself, she 
still says: 'I will bear the wrath of the Lord,' for either He 
chastizes me in my fall or has given you the power of 
afflicting me, 'because I have sinned,' yet I will bear this, 
'until he justify my cause.' 48 Unless I confess and pay the 
price of my iniquities, I cannot be justified. But, when I am 
justified and have paid double for my sins, 'He will execute 
judgment for me,' and lay aside His wrath since the sentence 
against me is satisfied. 'He will bring me forth into the light 
that I may see his justice' and behold His delight. My 
enemy, the iniquity of the Devil, will see the light of my 
reconciliation, and 'shall be covered with shame,' who saith 
to me: 'Where is the Lord thy God?' 49 He will see in me 
His mercy, he will see His love. 

Let us not listen to him when we are in the troubles of 
the world, whether of bodily pain, or the loss of children, 
or of other necessities. Let us, I say, not listen to him as he 

46 Mich. 7.8. 

47 Cf. 1 Cor. 5.5. 

48 Mich. 7.9. 

49 Mich. 5.10. 



240 SAINT AMBROSE 

says: 'Where is the Lord thy God? 5 When we suffer severe 
pain we must then beware of his temptations, for then he is 
trying to lead astray the weary soul. 

That soul which has not heeded his snares, seeing later 
the wonderful works of God, seeing herself in heaven, and 
the Devil creeping like a snake on the earth, will congratulate 
herself, saying: 'Who is a God like to thee, who takest 
away iniquity and passest by the wickedness?' 50 You have 
not been mindful of Your wrath, but have cast all our 
iniquities into the sea, like Egyptian lead, and graciously 
have restored us to mercy which You gave with twofold 
generosity, forgiving and hiding our sins, according to that 
which has been written: 'Blessed are those whose iniquities 
are forgiven, and whose sins are covered! 551 Some sins You 
have washed away by the Blood of Your Son, others You 
have remitted for us, that by doing good and rendering 
praise we may cover up our mistakes. The expression, 
'pardoning sins/ applies to their forgiveness, for He takes 
them away altogether, and what He remembers not are as 
though they did not exist. But the words 'passest by the 
wickedness' mean that, by confessing our failings and cover- 
ing them with good deeds, they become charged to the 
author of our fault, the instigator of our sin. Does he not do 
this who confesses his fault, proving that he was beguiled 
by the malice and craft of that spiritual wickedness opposing 
him? 

For this that soul gives thanks, that the Lord pardons sin, 
passes over and plunges iniquity into the depths of the sea. 
This may also refer to baptism in which the Egyptian is 
drowned, and the Hebrew rises again, wherein by the depths 
of wisdom and a multitude of good works her former sins are 

50 Mich. 7,18. 

51 Ps. 51.1. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 241 

covered up by the riches of the mercy of our God, who is 
mindful of the promise which He made to Abraham, and 
allows no soul which is an heir to Abraham to perish. 

By these a soul is called back. But do you, my son, from 
the first flower of your youth an heir of the Church, which 
bore and sustains you, persevere in your purpose, remember- 
ing God's grace and His gift which you received by the 
imposition of my hands. Thus, in this office, too, as in the 
sacred ministry, you may reveal your faith and diligence 
and look for the recompense of the Lord Jesus. 

Farewell, and love us as a son, for we love you. 



46. Ambrose to Horontianus 1 

In my last letter I spoke of the soul which journeys through 
certain devious and winding roads, wavering as did Israel of 
old in the flesh. But Israel herself will be set free through 
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, c when the full number of 
the Gentiles shall enter,' 2 for, her sin being lighter, she has 
renewed herself by repentance. Let us speak in this letter 
of the daughter of the Church and let us consider how the 
Lord Jesus first took her under His care, instructed her, and 
led her to perfection in His Gospel. 

Now, it was when she lay in distress that He first took her 
under His care how but in distress can the soul of anyone 
live an exile from paradise? 3 and He brought her to 
Bethlehem. 4 The progress of that soul which He has taken 
in hand is signified in her going up to the 'house of bread' 
where she will not experience dearth or sterility of faith. I 

1 Undated. 

2 Rom. 11.25. 

3 Cf. Gen. 3.25. 

4 Cf. Matt, 2.1. 



242 SAINT AMBROSE 

am speaking of souls in general, the souls by which we live 
and move, and not of any soul in particular, for it is not of 
the individual or particular soul of anyone, but of souls in 
general, as I said, that I intend to discourse. 

Christ went down into Egypt, 5 assuming the protection 
and guidance of our soul, and then He returned to Judea. 
He was in the desert; 6 He was in Capharnaum; He was near 
the borders of Zabulon; He was by the sea coast; He passed 
through cornfields; He was in Bethphage, in Ephraim, in 
Bethany. Then He went into the garden where He gave 
Himself up; He suffered on Golgotha. 

These are all steps in the progress of our soul through 
which by practice she receives the grace of a holy life. For, 
when the human race, in the person of Adam and Eve, was 
excluded from paradise and banished to a little town, she 
began wandering here and there, tracing her misguided 
steps without any delight. But in His own good time the 
Lord Jesus emptied Himself 7 that He might take upon 
Himself this state of exile and bring back the soul to her 
former state of grace. When He found her, and she had 
retraced her devious course of error, He called her back to 
paradise, as the Gospel reading explains. 

He led her through the cornfields in order to feed one who 
was fasting; next into the desert, then into Capharnaum, a 
dwelling in the country, not in the city. Next, He brought 
her to the borders of Zabulon, near the floods of the night, 
those dark riddles of the Prophets, so that she might learn 
to find her way to the land of the Gentiles where all men 
meet, and that she might not fear the storms and billows 
of this world. Christ owns ships from Tharsis, 8 mystical 

5 Cf. Matt. 2.14. 

6 Cf. Matt. 4.1. 

7 Cf. Phil. 2.8. 

8 Cf. 3 Kings 10.22. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 243 

ships, of course, which traverse the sea and bring pious 
offerings for the construction of the temple. In ships like 
these Christ sets sail, and, like a good pilot, rests in the 
stern when the sea is calm. But when it is disturbed He 
awakes and rebukes the winds that He may flood His disciples 
with peace. 9 By going to the Gentiles, too, He sets free the 
soul which was held fast by the chains of the Law, so that 
she may not go to the company of heathens. 

He came to Bethany, e to the place of obedience,' where a 
dead man is raised to life, for, when the flesh is subdued by 
the soul, human nature no longer lies as if dead in its tomb, 
but is raised up by the grace of Christ. There, too, she 
learns to offer to suffer in the name of God. 10 As John 
teaches, 11 she is led from the 'place of obedience' to Eph- 
raim, that is, to the richness of good fruits. From there she 
is brought to Bethany, that is, to obedience, for, once she 
has tasted the fruit of holy obedience, she is never unwilling 
to preserve it and to be called into its service. 

When at last she was found pleasing, she came to Jeru- 
salem, being worthy to be made into the temple of God where 
Christ dwelt. Here it is that the Lord Jesus sits upon the foal 
of an ass and is welcomed with the joy and gladness of an 
age that does no harm. 12 

Later, the words of eternal life are explained there in the 
garden where the Lord even allowed Himself to be seized, as 
John the Evangelist writes, 13 signifying that our soul, or rather, 
human nature, after the bonds of error are loosed, returns 
through Christ to the place from which in Adam she was 
expelled. Therefore, even to the thief who confessed his guilt 

9 Cf. Matt. 8.26. 

10 Cf. John 11.17-44. 

11 Cf. John 12.1. 

12 Cf. John 12.14. 

13 Cf. Tohn 18.8. 



244 SAINT AMBROSE 

it was said: 'Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with 
me in paradise.' He had said: 'Remember me when thou 
comest into thy kingdom/ 14 In answering him, Christ did 
not speak of His kingdom, yet for this reason [He said]: 
'This day thou shalt be with me in paradise/ that what was 
lost should first be formed anew, and then must be increased. 
Thus a way is provided through paradise to the kingdom, 
not through the kingdom to paradise. 

It is reserved for the disciples to receive more in proportion 
to their labors, That is why He only promised the thief a 
dwelling, but He reserved the kingdom for a later time. Let 
the man who is converted at the stroke of death and confesses 
the Lord Jesus merit an abode in paradise, but he who 
disciplined himself long before and has been a soldier for 
Christ, won souls, and offered himself for Christ should 
have the kingdom of God for his wages and should rejoice 
to receive the full reward of his deeds. So it is said to Peter: 
'I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven/ 15 Thus, 
the one converted from robbery obtains rest, the one tried in 
the apostleship receives authority. 

This is the soul trained by the Gospel, the soul of the 
Gentiles, the daughter of the Church. She is far better after 
her journeying than the soul cast out of Judea, for she has 
mounted up to the Lord Jesus and to higher things by her 
good counsels and good works, and Christ has acknowledged 
her as His own on Golgotha. There was the burial place of 
Adam so that there through His cross Christ might raise the 
dead to life. And where in Adam all have death, there in 
Christ all have the resurrection. 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you. 

14 Luke 23.42,43. 

15 Matt. 16.19. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 245 

47. Ambrose to Horontianus 1 

Not in vain have you decided to inquire about the nature 
of the inheritance of a divine legacy and the reason why it 
is esteemed of such value that many even offer up their 
death for its sake. But if you realize that even among men 
the advantage of inheriting money gives an additional sanctity 
to the laws of filial affection, and that parents are given 
greater respect lest the slighted love of a father may wreak 
its vengeance by disinheriting or repudiating a rebellious 
child, you will cease wondering why there is so great desire 
of the divine inheritance. 

Now, there is an inheritance offered to all Christians, as 
Isaias says: 'This is the inheritance of those who believe in 
the Lord,' 2 and it is hoped for by promise, not by the Law. 
This is proved by the parable of the Old Testament in the 
words of Sara: 'Cast out this slave-girl with her sop; for 
the son of this slave-girl shall not be heir with my son 
Isaac.' 3 Sara's son was Isaac, the slave-girl's son was Ismael; 
since they antedated the Law, the promise was older than 
the Law. We, in comparison with Isaac, are sons by promise; 
the Jews, in comparison with the flesh, are sons of the 
slave-girl. 4 We have a free woman as our mother, she who 
was barren and later begot and bore a son of promise. Their 
mother is Agar, she who brings children to bondage. Who- 
ever is promised grace is free; whoever is given the yoke of 
the Law is enslaved. Therefore, the promise was ours before 
they had the Law, and by nature freedom is more ancient 
than bondage. Freedom is by promise; bondage, by the Law. 
But, although the promise is before the Law, as we have said, 

1 Undated. 

2 Isa. 54.17. 

3 Gen. 21.10. 

4 Cf. Gal. 4.28. 



246 SAINT AMBROSE 

and freedom is the promise, love is in freedom; love is 
according to the Law and love is greater than freedom. 

Are we not, then, servants? Why is it written: Traise the 
Lord, ye servants'? 5 Why does the Apostle say: But as 
slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart, with 
good will'? 6 Truly, this service is free and willing, of which 
the Apostle says: 'A freeman who has been called is a slave 
of Christ.' 7 This is service of the heart, not of necessity. Thus, 
we are the servants of our Creator, but we enjoy the freedom 
which we have received through the grace of Christ, being 
born of the promise by faith. And as those born of a free 
woman, let us make an offering of our freedom, for we have 
been signed on the forehead as befits the free, so that we 
will not be confounded, but rejoice, being signed in the 
spirit, not in the flesh. To these is it properly said: 'Stand 
fast, and do not be caught again under the yoke of slavery.' 8 
He did not say: 'Do not be slaves,' but e do not be caught by 
the yoke of slavery,' for the yoke of slavery is heavier than 
slavery. 

Isaac also says to his son Esau, when he asks his blessing: 
"Behold, without the fruitfulness of the earth shall your 
dwelling be; without the dew of the heavens above. By your 
sword shall you live, you shall serve your brother. But there 
will be a time when you shall take and shake his yoke from 
your neck.' 9 How does his being a slave fit in with his casting 
from his neck his brother's yoke, unless we realize the differ- 
ence that exists in slavery? Let Scripture itself explain this 
difference to us : Isaac is good, and he is good to us who are 
born after him into freedom; he is a good father to both 
his sons. He proved that he loved them both by affection 

5 Ps. 134.1. 

6 Eph. 6.6. 

7 1 Cor. 7.22. 

8 Gal. 5.1. 

9 Gen. 27.39,40. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 247 

for the one, by a blessing for the other, for he bade the older 
son bring him food and receive his blessing, but while he 
delayed and went in search of wild game from afar, the 
younger brother brought him a kid from his own fold. 

The good food of all is Christ, the good food is faith; the 
sweet food is mercy; the pleasing food is grace, foods which 
the people of holy Church feed upon. The good food is 
the Spirit of God; the good food is the remission of sins. But 
very hard food is the severity of the Law, the fear of penalty; 
and coarse food is the observance of the letter in place of 
the grace of pardon. Those people are under a curse, but we 
in blessing. A ready food is faith: 'But the word is nigh in 
thy mouth and in thy heart.' 10 The food of the Law is 
slower, for while they awaited the Law the people went 
astray. 

Therefore, the father gave his blessing to his alert and 
faithful son, but, being a good father, he also saved his 
blessing for his older son in order to make him his brother's 
servant. This he did, not because he wished to debase his 
family to slavery, but because he who is incapable of ruling 
and governing himself must be a slave and be in the service 
of one more wise, so that he will be guided by his wisdom, 
and not fall through his own folly or stumble through his 
want of caution. Such a state of slavery is given instead of a 
blessing. Moreover, it is numbered among benefits, along 
with the fatness of the earth and the dew of heaven from 
above. But, having said: 'By your sword you shall live/ 11 
lest he be harmed by confidence arising from strength or 
power, he added: 'You shall serve your brother,' in order 
that you may obtain the rich fruits of the body, and the dew 
of divine grace, and may follow him who will guide you by 
his leadership. 

10 Deut. 30.14. 

11 Gen. 27.40. 



248 SAINT AMBROSE 

There will be a time when you shall shake off his yoke 
from your neck that you may have the reward of a willing 
slavery and not undergo the evil of compulsory bondage. That 
slavery is dishonorable which is compelled by necessity, but 
that is honorable which is offered in affection. Hence the 
Apostle's words: 'If I do this willingly, I have a reward. 
But if unwillingly, it is a stewardship that has been entrusted 
to me.' 12 Surely, it is better to merit a reward then to serve 
as a steward. Let us, then, not be bound by the yoke of 
slavery, but let us serve in charity of spirit, since the Apostle 
says: 'By charity of spirit serve ye one another.' 13 Fear of the 
Law is the charity of the Gospel. 'The fear of the Lord is 
the beginning of wisdom, but the fulness of the Law is 
charity/ 14 Yet the Law itself says: 'But the whole Law is 
fulfilled in one word, 315 and it is summed up in this: 'Thou 
shalt love thy neighbor.' 16 

This, then, is what we asserted, for, although bondage is of 
the Law, freedom is in accord with the Law, for love belongs 
to freedom, fear to bondage. There is, therefore, a love of 
the Law and a bondage of love;, and the Law is the fore- 
runner of love, and the love of the Gospel is a free donation 
of loving service. 

The Law, then, is not unneeded, for like a tutor it attends 
the weak. 17 I mean weakness of character, not of body, for 
there are children who do not know how to utter God's 
word, who do not receive His works, for, if a spotless life is 
old age, 18 surely a life full of stains is the time of youth. 
The Law, therefore, was a tutor, that is, nomos, until faith 
came, 'And,' he says, like weaklings we were kept imprisoned 

12 1 Cor. 9.17. 

13 Gal. 5.13. 

14 EcclL 1.16. 

15 Gal. 5.14. 

16 Rom. 13.9. 

17 Cf. Gal. 3.24. 

18 Cf. Wisd. 4.9. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 249 

by the Law, shut up for the faith that was to be revealed.' 19 
Later came faith; he does not mean the Gospel, but faith, for 
that is only faith which is the Gospel, for in it the justice of 
God is revealed which is from faith unto faith, 20 yet this of the 
Law is faith if the fullness of faith reaches it. Rightly, 
therefore, is faith spoken of as a single thing, for that [law] 
without this [faith] is not faith, it is confirmed in this [faith]. 
When faith came, there arrived, too, the fullness, there arrived 
the adoption of sons, weakness departed, childhood left, we 
rose to perfect manhood, we put on Christ. How can one be 
weak and small in whom is Christ, the power of God? Thus 
have we arrived at perfection and we have received the 
teachings of perfection. 

Today you have heard the reading: 'Of myself I can do 
nothing. As I hear, I judge.' You have also heard: C I do not 
accuse you, I do not judge.' I do not accuse: 'Moses accuses 
you, in whom you hope.' And you have heard: If I bear 
witness concerning myself, my witness is not true.' 21 I have 
been taught what sort of judge, what sort of witness I should 
be. For it is not as a weakling that He says: 'Of myself I 
can do nothing,' but one who hears this is the weakling. 
Indeed, the Son does nothing without the Father, because in 
them are community of operation and unity of power. Here 
He speaks like a judge, so that we may know in judging men 
that we must form our opinion equitably, not according to 
our own will and power. 

Choose some criminal who has been charged and found 
guilty of a crime, one who does not persist in excuses, but 
begs pardon, falling at the knees of the judge. He answers 
him: 6 Of myself I can do nothing; justice, not power, is in 
the pronouncement of judgment. I do not judge; your own 
deeds judge you. They charge and accuse you. The laws 

19 Gal 3.23. 

20 Cf. Rom. 1.17. 



250 SAINT AMBROSE 

condemn you; I as judge do not charge but only guard 
them. Of myself I produce nothing, but from you proceeds 
the sentence of judgment against you. As I hear, I judge, 
not as I wish, and my judgment is true because I favor not 
my wish but fairness." 

Let us next consider the divine rule of judging. The Lord 
of heaven and earth, the Judge of all, says: Of myself I 
can do nothing. As I hear, I judge,' and man says to his 
Lord: e Dost thou not know that I have power to release 
thee, and I have power to crucify thee?' 22 Why is the Lord 
not able? 'Because, 5 He says, c my judgment is true, because 
I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me,' 23 
that is, not the will of man whom you see, not the choice of 
man whom you judge only as man, not the will of the flesh, 
for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, 24 but the divine 
will which is the source of law and the rule of judgment. 
Likewise is that witness true who bears witness not of himself, 
but of another, for it is written: 'Let another praise thee, 
and not thy own mouth.' 25 

In a mystical sense it is well said to the Jews: *I do not 
judge you, I, the redemption of all, I, the remission of sins, 
I do not judge you because you have not received me. I do 
not judge; I freely pardon. I do not judge; I redeem sinners 
with my blood. I do not judge; I blot out iniquities and I 
will not remember. 26 I do not judge; I prefer the life rather 
than the death of the sinner. 27 I do not judge, I do not 
condemn you, but I justify those who confess. Moses accuses 
you ; he has blamed you, in whom you hope. He accuses you, 
because he has not the power of judging; this is reserved for 

21 John 5.30,45,31. 

22 John 19.10. 

23 John 5.30. 

24 Cf. Matt. 26.41. 

25 Prov. 27.2. 

26 Cf. Isa, 43.25. 

27 Cf. Ezech. 18.23. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 251 

his Maker. 5 He, then, In whom you trust is accusing you, 
while the One in whom you willed not to hope has forgiven 
you. 

O great folly of the Jews! Rightly are they accused of 
their crimes, for they have chosen an accuser and refused a 
good judge; pardon, therefore, is not for them; punishment 
surely reaches them. 

It is right for you, my son, to have begun with the Law 
and to have been confirmed in the Gospel, from faith to 
faith, as it is written: 'He who is just lives by faith. 528 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



48. Ambrose to Horontianus 1 

If 'Abraham believed the Lord, who credited the act to 
him as justice 52 and his act was considered just, taking him 
from unbelief to faith, surely we are justified by faith, not 
by the works of the Law. But Abraham had two sons, Ismael 
and Isaac, one of a slave-girl, the other of a free woman. 3 
But he was told to cast out the slave-girl and her son, for 
the son of the slave-girl would not be his heir. We, therefore, 
are not sons of the slave-girl but of the free woman by whose 
freedom Christ has set us free. Hence it follows that they 
are sons of Abraham who are so by faith, for heirs of faith 
surpass heirs by birth. The Law is a tutor; faith is a free 
woman. Let us, then, cast out the works of bondage; let us 
keep the grace of freedom; let us leave the shade, following 
the sun; let us break with Jewish rites. 

The circumcision of one member is of no avail, for the 

28 Rom. 1.17. 

1 Undated. 

2 Gen. 15.6. 

3 Cf. Gal. 4.22. 



252 SAINT AMBROSE 

Apostle says: 'Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you be cir- 
cumcised, Christ will be of no advantage to you/ 4 not because 
He is powerless, but because He does not consider those 
worthy of His benefits who desert His paths. 

Sephora of old circumcised her son and warded off 
a threatening danger. 5 Even then Christ was of advantage, 
although perfection was still deferred. While the group of 
believers was small, the Lord Jesus came, not small, but 
perfect in all things. He was circumcised first in accordance 
with the Law so as not to destroy the Law, and later through 
the Cross in order to fulfill the Law. 6 That which is only 
partial has ended, because that which is perfect has come, for 
in Christ the Cross circumcised not one member but the 
useless pleasures of the whole body. 

Perhaps it is still being asked why one who had come to 
show a perfect circumcision wished to be circumcised partially. 
On this I do not think we need ponder further, for, if He 
became sin in order to cleanse our sins, 7 if He became a 
curse for us in order to make void the curse of the Law/ 
for this reason He was also circumcised for us in order to 
remove the circumcision of the Law, for He was about to 
give us the salvation of the Cross. 

In the spirit we must wait for the hope of justice by faith, 
as the Apostle tells us, and we who are called to freedom 
must not use our liberty as an occasion for sensuality. Indeed, 
'neither circumcision is of any avail, nor uncircumcision, but 
faith which works through charity.' 9 Therefore, it is written: 
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.' 10 One who loves surely 



4 Gal. 5.2. 

5 Cf. Exod. 4.25. 

6 Cf. 1 Cor. 13.10. 

7 Cf. 2 Cor. 5.21. 

8 Cf Gal. 3.13. 

9 Cf. Gah 5.5,13,6. 
10 Deut, 6.5. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 253 

believes and in believing each man begins to love. Abraham 
believed and so began to love, and believed not in part, but 
entirely; otherwise, he could not have perfect charity, because 
it has been written: 'Charity believes all things.' 11 Unless 
charity believes all things it does not appear perfect. There- 
fore, perfect charity has all faith. 

Yet, I would not lightly assert that all faith at once has 
perfect charity, for the Apostle says: 'If I have all faith so as 
to remove mountains, yet do not have charity, I am noth- 
ing.' 12 In a Christian man there are three virtues in particular, 
hope, faith, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity. 13 

I suppose the Apostle said this for the sake of his argument, 
for it hardly seems possible that one who had all faith so as 
to remove mountains would not have charity, or how if he 
had all mysteries and all knowledge he would not have 
charity, especially since John says: 'Everyone who believes 
that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,' 14 and he has said 
above: 'Whoever is born of God does not commit sin.* 15 
Hence it is understood that if one who believes that Jesus is 
the Christ is born of God, and one who is born of God does 
not sin, then surely one who believes that Jesus is the Christ 
does not sin. If a man sins, he does not believe; one who does 
not believe does not love; one who does not love is guilty 
of sin. Therefore, he does not love who sins, for charity 
covers a multitude of sins. 16 But charity precludes the love of 
sin and, since it also casts out fear, charity surely is full of 
perfect faith. 

The Apostles, who were to be His friends, said as they 
asked the good Physician to heal their weak faith: 'Increase 

11 1 Cor. 13.7. 

12 1 Cor. 13.2. 

13 Cf. 1 Cor. 13.13. 

14 1 John 4.7. 

15 1 John 3.9. 

16 Cf. 1 Peter 4.8. 



254 SAINT AMBROSE 

our faith.' 17 Their faith was still weak, since even Peter 
heard: C O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?' 18 Thus 
does faith as the forerunner of charity take hold of the soul 
and prepare the way for love that is to come. And there is all 
faith where there is the perfection of charity. 

I believe it is said that charity believes all things, 19 that 
is, she makes faith believe all things and such a soul has all 
faith. Consequently, where charity is perfect there is all faith, 
and where charity is perfect there is all hope. As it believes 
all things so it is said to hope all things. It is the greater 
in that it embraces hope and faith. 

A man with this charity fears nothing, for charity casts 
out fear; when fear is banished and cast out, charity endures 
all things, bears all things. One who bears all things through 
love cannot fear martyrdom. For this reason, like a conqueror 
at the end of his course, he [Paul] says elsewhere: The 
world is crucified to me, and I to the world. 320 

Farewell, son, and love us, for we love you. 



49. Ambrose to Horontianus (c. 387) 

After reading the Hexaemeron which I wrote, you told me 
that you were disturbed in the course of the sacred narrative 
and in my discussion of it because more was bestowed upon 
man than upon any living creature on earth, yet the earth and 
water produced all those things that fly or are on land or in 
water before man was produced for whose sake everything 
was made. You are asking me the reason for this: Moses 
was silent on this point and I dared not touch on it. 



17 Luke 17.5. 

18 Matt, 14.31. 

19 C*. 1 Cor. 13.7. 

20 Gal. 6.14. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 255 

That spokesman of the divine decrees perhaps could have 
been purposely silent so as not to seem to set himself up as 
the judge and adviser of heaven's plans. It is one thing to 
utter what is inspired by the Spirit of God; it is another to 
interpret God's will I think that we, speaking not as inter- 
preters of God, but gathering, as it were, the seeds of reason 
from human usage, can give an opinion as to why it was 
becoming for man to be created last. For we have the example 
which men give us themselves and we also realize that God 
Himself has instilled into other creatures those practices 
which man may take as an example for himself. 

One who sets out a banquet, as did the rich man in the 
Gospel (for we must compare divine things with divine things 
the better to be able to gather our arguments), prepares 
everything beforehand, kills his bulls and fatlings, and only 
then invites his friends to dinner. The trifles are first made 
ready, then the honored guest is summoned. In this way, too, 
the Lord first prepared for man the food of all animals, 
then summoned him like a friend to His banquet. Truly is 
that man a friend, a partaker of divine love, an heir of glory. 
To man himself He says: 'Friend, how didst thou come in 
here to the banquet?' 1 Those things which precede are 
furnishings, the friend is the one who is asked last. 

Take another example. What is the world but an arena 
full of fighting? Therefore the Lord says in the Apocalypse: 
'To the victor I shall give the crown of life,' 2 and Paul says: 
C I have fought the good fight,' 3 and elsewhere: c No one is 
crowned unless he has competed according to the rules.' 4 He 
who initiated this contest is actually Almighty God. When 
one initiates a contest in this world, does he not prepare all 

1 Matt. 22.12. 

2 Apoc. 2.10. 

3 2 Tim. 4.7. 

4 2 Tim. 2.5. 



256 SAINT AMBROSE 

that is necessary for the contest, and only after he has made 
ready the wreaths for rewards call those who are to contend 
for the crown, so that the winner may not meet with delay 
but depart after being given his reward? The rewards of man 
are the fruits of the earth and the lights of heaven. The 
former are for his use in the present life; the latter, for his 
hope of life eternal. 

Like an athlete, then, he comes last into the arena; he 
lifts his eyes to heaven; he sees that the heavenly creation 
was made subject to vanity not by its own will, but by 
reason of Him who made it subject in hope. 5 He sees that 
all creation groaned awaiting redemption. He sees that his 
whole task awaits him. He lifts his eyes, he sees the crowns 
of lights, he studies the spheres of moon and stars; 'But the 
just who have conquered will be like the stars in heaven.' 6 
He chastises his body so that it will not defeat him in the 
contest; he anoints it with the oil of mercy; he practices 
daily exhibitions of virtue; he smears himself with dust; he 
runs with assurance to the goal of the course; he aims his 
blows, he darts his arms, but not at empty spaces; he strikes 
the adversary whom he does not see, because he is watching 
Him alone to whom all give way, even those who are not seen, 
at whose name spiritual powers were turned aside. It is he who 
poises the blow, it is Christ who strikes; he lifts his heel, 
Christ directs it to the wound. Lastly, although Paul did 
not see those whom he struck, he struck not as at the air, 7 
because in preaching Christ he dealt wounds to all those 
spiritual evils which were His enemies. Not undeservedly, 
then, did man enter the stadium last, and a crown was 
prepared for him so that heaven might go before him as 
being his reward, 

5 Cf. Rom. 8.20. 

6 Dan. 12.3. 

7 Cf. I Cor. 9.26. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 257 

But our struggle is not only against the spirits of evil, 
which are in heaven, but also against flesh and blood. 8 We 
struggle with satiety, we struggle with the fruits of the earth, 
we struggle with wine, by which even the just man was made 
drunk, 9 by which the whole army of the Jews was thrown 
back. We struggle with wild beasts; there is a struggle with 
the birds of the air, for our flesh, made fat with these, is 
not put in our service; we struggle with perils of journeying, 
with perils of waters, as Paul says; 10 we struggle with rods 
from trees by which the Apostles were beaten. 11 You see 
what great fights these are. Earth is man's training ground; 
heaven his crown. Therefore, as courtesies precede the friend, 
so do rewards precede the athlete. 

Consider another example. In all things the beginning and 
the end are the most important. If you observe a house, the 
foundation and roof are most important; if it be a field, it 
is the sowing and harvest, the planting and the vintage. How 
pleasant are the graftings of trees, how desirable the fruits! 
So, too, heaven was formed first, man last, as being a heavenly 
creature on earth. Although he is compared in body with 
the beasts, in mind he is counted among celestial beings, 
for, even as we have borne the likeness of the earthly, so we 
bear the likeness of the heavenly. 12 How is he not heavenly 
who was made to the image and likeness of God? 13 

Rightly is heaven first and last in the creation of the 
world, for in heaven there is what is beyond heaven, there is 
the God of heaven. Lastly, of him it is understood: 'Heaven 
is my throne/ 14 for God does not sit above the element of 
heaven but in the heart of man. For this reason the Lord 

8 Cf. Eph. 6.12. 

9 Cf. Gen. 9.21. 

10 Cf. 2 Cor. 1L29. 

11 Cf. Acts 16.22. 

12 Cf. 1 Cor. 15.49. 

13 Cf. Gen. 1.26. 

14 Isa. 66.1. 



258 SAINT AMBROSE 

also says: We will come to him and make our abode with 
him.' 15 Heaven, therefore, is the first of the works on earth; 
man is the close or end or last. 

Heaven is of the world, man above the world; the one is 
part of the world, the other an inhabitant of paradise, Christ's 
possession. Heaven is considered incorruptible, yet it passes 
away; man is regarded as corruptible and is clothed with 
incorruption; the figure of the one perishes, the other rises as 
being immortal. Yet, according to the authority of Scripture, 
the hands of the Lord fashioned both. We read of the 
heavens: The heavens are the works of thy hands.' 16 Man, 
too, says: Thy hands have made me and formed me,' 17 and 
The heavens declare the glory of God.' 18 As heaven is lighted 
with the splendor of the stars so do men shine with the light 
of their gpod works, and their deeds shine before their Father 
in heaven. 19 The one is the firmament of heaven on high, 
the other is a similar firmament of which it is said: 'Upon 
this rock I will build my Church'; 20 the one is a firmament 
of the elements, the other of virtues, and this last is more 
excellent. They sucked oil out of the hard stone, 21 for the 
rock is Christ's body which redeemed heaven and the entire 
world. 22 

Why should I weave these details further and, as it were, 
take you over the whole course? The fact is that God made 
man a partaker of the divine nature, as we read in the Epistle 
of Peter. 23 Hence, someone says not without cause: Tor we 

15 John 14.23. 

16 Ps. 101.26. 

17 Ps. 118.73. 

18 Ps. 17.1, 

19 Cf. Matt. 5.16. 

20 Matt. 16.18. 

21 Cf. Deut. 32.13. 

22 Cf. 1 Cor. 10.4. 

23 Cf. 2 Peter 1.4. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 259 

are also his offspring.' 24 He granted us a relationship with 
Himself, and we are of a rational nature so that we may 
seek that which is divine, which is not far from each one of 
us, in whom we live and are and move. 

When He had bestowed the greatest of graces on man, as 
though he were His dearest and nearest friend, He gave him 
everything in the world, 25 so that no one would be without 
the necessities of life and the good life. One of these is the 
means of providing pleasure the abundance of the earth's 
fruits; another is the knowledge of the secrets of heaven, 
which inflames the mind with love for his fellow men and 
longing for virtue by which we can reach the summit of 
divine mysteries. Both are most excellent to have, as a king 
of the elements, the use of the sea, and to have all the 
world's wealth subject to him creatures of air, land and 
water; to abound in all things without labor or want in the 
image and likeness of the adorable Creator, living in the 
greatest plenty, opening a way and advancing along a path 
by which to reach the palace of heaven. 

You will discover quite early that the traveler on this 
difficult road is the man who has been so fashioned in purpose 
of heart and will that he has little association with his body, 
who enters into no fellowship with vice and is not impressed 
by flattering words. When he rides the chariot of prosperity 
he does not scorn the humble, or flee sorrows, or shake off 
and make light of the praises of the saints, or by desire for 
glory and bold gain expend all the eagerness of his hope. 
Sadness does not bow down his mind; wrong-dealing does 
not break it; suspicion does not arouse it; lust does not stir 
it. The body's passions do not overwhelm it; desire for vain 
objects and the allurements of pleasure do not disquiet it. 

24 Acts 17.28. The words quoted by St. Paul are from the Greek poet 
Aratus of Cilicia, a fellow countryman of Paul, 

25 Cf. Gen. 1.28. 



260 SAINT AMBROSE 

If you add to these the virtues of chastity, soberness, and 
temperance, he is easily able to rein in the unruly drives of 
fickle passions, he sets bounds to his pleasures and desires, he 
puts an end to irresolution with fairness, he settles doubts 
with tranquility of mind and body, and, like a good judge, 
he keeps a harmless peace between the exterior and interior 
man, stilling each within himself. And if he is in distress, no 
evil counselor turns him back through fear from the crown 
of suffering; plainly, he will be brought in not only as a 
friend but as a son by a father, so that he may enjoy the 
riches of glory and His inheritance. 

Quite rightly is he the last, as it were, the consummation 
of nature fashioned for righteousness, the judge of right 
among other living creatures. For example, as among men 
Christ is the consummation of the law for all who believe 
justice, 26 and we are, as it were, beasts in God's sight, so the 
Prophet says: 'I became as a brute beast before thee. 527 Yet, 
what is the comparison when He redeemed those who were 
perishing, and we put them to death He called slaves to 
liberty and we put the free into captivity? But who is equal 
to God? 28 

Man, therefore, came the last of all creatures, attractive in 
appearance, lofty in mind, so that he would be admirable to 
every creature, having in him, after the image of the eternal 
God, an invisible intelligence, 29 clothed in human form. 
This is the intelligence, the power of the soul, claiming for 
itself like a ruler the direction of soul and body. Other 
creatures fear this, although they do not see it, as we fear 
God whom we do not see, and fear the more because we do 
not see Him. 

26 Cf. Rom. 10.4. 

27 Ps. 72.22. 

28 Cf. Ps. 88.9. 

29 Gr.: nous. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 261 

Since we are in His image and likeness, as Scripture says, 30 
let us presume to speak, just as He expresses Himself in the 
fullness of His majesty, and sees all things sky, air, earth, 
sea embracing all and penetrating each one, so that nothing 
passes His notice and nothing exists unless it exists in Him 
and depends on Him and is full of Him, as He Himself 
says: C I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord.' 31 In the same 
way man's intelligence sees all, and is not seen, and has an 
invisible nature of its own. Through learning and judgment 
and perception the mind understands hidden matters, pene- 
trates the secrets of the sea and the deep recesses of all the 
earth. She searches both parts of nature, in the likeness of 
the high God whom she imitates and follows, whose image 
is mirrored in each individual in proportionately small par- 
ticles. She raises herself into the air and treads above the 
regions of the clouds; she soars to the heights of heaven by 
her desire for knowledge and her longing for wisdom; there, 
held fast for a while by wonder at the stars of heaven, 
delighted by their brilliant light, she gazes down on the 
things of the world. She betakes herself to Hesperus and 
Arcturus and the other unerring planets, and she sees that 
their wandering is not waywardness, that in order to visit all 
regions they appear to weave about and wander in and out 
unerringly. She soars with greater longing to the very embrace 
of the Father in whom is the only-begotten Son of God telling 
secrets of God, which will be revealed face to face in a later 
time. 32 Now, He reveals in part and in mystery to those who 
are worthy, and He sheds forth the Spirit and from His 
countenance, like a torrent, a resplendent light, so that man 
who has been illumined may say: 'And there was in my 
bones a flaming fire, and I am melted on all sides and cannot 

30 Cf. Gen. 1.26. 

31 Jer. 23.24. 

32 Cf. John 1.18. 



262 SAINT AMBROSE 

bear it. 333 And David says: 'Let my sentence come forth 
from thy presence,' 34 

After this digression let me now speak of that vigor of 
mind through which she governs all outside her, gazes at 
scattered and far-distant things, subdues animals of greater- 
strength, inspires in others such great respect for herself that 
they vie with one another in obeying her, as though she 
were a king, and heed her words. Though irrational, they 
recognize reason and they are impressed with that learning 
which nature did not give them. Even wild beasts, seeing her 
gentleness, grow gentle at her command. They often close 
their jaws when the sound of a man's voice restrains them. 
We see hares caught without injury by the harmless teeth of 
dogs, and lions will let go their prey if a man's voice is 
heard; leopards, too, and bears are driven on or called off 
by men's words; horses neigh at men's applause and slacken 
their pace because of [men's] silence, and often, although not 
whipped, they outstrip those which are lashed, so much more 
powerfully does the whip of the tongue drive them on. 

What shall I say of gifts [of creation]? In order to please 
man the ram nourishes his fleece and plunges into the 
stream in order to increase his sheen. Sheep chew richer 
grasses 35 in order to distend their filled udders 36 with the 
sweeter juice of milk; they suffer the pains of travail in order 
to give their gifts to man. Bulls groan all day under the plow 
which is pressed into the furrows. 37 Camels, besides the 
task of carrying loads, allow themselves to be sheared like 
sheep. The various animals make their offering as to a king 
and pay an annual tax. The horse, taking delight in his 
rider, prances proudly and, arching his back when his master 

33 Jer. 20,9. 

34 Ps. 16.2. 

35 Cf. Virgil, Aen. 12.475. 

36 Cf. Virgil, Eel. 4.21. 

37 Cf. Virgil, Georg. 1.45. 

38 Ibid. 3.117. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 263 

mounts, offers his back as the rider's seat. 38 If it still puzzles 
you why man was made last, let that horse teach us that 
man was delayed not as a slight, but as an honor. A horse 
carries one who came after him; he does not despise but 
fears him ; he takes him everywhere with pain to himself. In a 
moment man reaches distant places, traverses long distances, 
now on a single horse, now in a triumphal chariot. 

Since I have mentioned triumphal chariots, I must refer to 
the chariot of Elias in which he was carried through the air, 39 
and those chariots of elephants on which man the conqueror 
sits and rules those before him, although he is the last. So, 
too, the ship's helmsman sits in the stern, yet he guides the 
whole ship. That is why, I suppose, it is said, not without 
purpose in the Gospel, that the Lord Jesus was asleep in the 
stern, and when He was awakened He commanded the wind 
and the sea and calmed the storm, 40 showing that He came 
last because He came as the helmsman. Therefore, the Apostle 
says: '"The first man, Adam, became a living soul"; the 
last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the 
spiritual that comes first but the physical, and then the 
spiritual,' and he added: 'The first man was of the earth, 
earthy: the second man is from heaven, heavenly.' 41 

Rightly, then, is the last one like the sum of the whole 
work. It is he alone who, like the cause of the world for 
which were made all things, dwells, so to speak, in all the 
elements lives amid beasts, swims with fish, flies above the 
birds, talks with angels, dwells on earth, wars in heaven, 
ploughs the sea, feeds in the air, is a tiller of the soil, a 
traveler on the deep, a fisherman in streams, a fowler in the 
air, an heir in heaven, a joint-heir with Christ. 42 This he 
does by his energy. 

39 Cf. 4 Kings 2.11. 

40 Cf. Matt. 8.24. 

41 1 Cor. 15.45-47. 

42 Cf. Rom. 8.17. 



264 SAINT AMBROSE 

Learn, too, man's supernatural powers. Moses walked 
along the bottom of the sea, 43 the Apostles upon it, 44 Habacuc 
flew without wings, 45 Elias conquered on earth and had his 
triumph in heaven. 46 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you. 



50. Ambrose to Horontianus (Spring, 387) 

You have noted remarkably well the distinction drawn by 
the Prophet, or, rather, by God, for Moses did not write by 
his own power; he wrote by inspiration and revelation, 
particularly in what concerns the creation of the world. This 
distinction sets apart worker and works. 1 Since the one was 
incapable of suffering and the other susceptible of suffering, 
he attributed that which is incapable of suffering to God the 
worker, and to the world that which is susceptible of suffering, 
having no life or motion of its own, receiving from its Creator 
motion, life, and form. The world, once it was made, was not 
to be left unguarded, without a pilot and father. Hence, he 
relates very clearly that the unseen God is the guide and 
protector of this visible world. The invisible, then, is ever- 
lasting; the visible is temporal. 2 

He states that the world was made in six days, not because 
God had need of time to set it up, since a moment suffices 
for Him to do what He wishes, for 'he spoke and they were 
made, 53 but things which are made require an order and 
order generally requires both time and number. For this 

43 Cf. Exod. 14.29. 

44 Cf. John 21.8. 

45 Cf. Dan. 14.35. 

46 Cf. 4 Kings 2.11 r 

1 Cf. Gen. 1.1. 

2 Cf. 2 Cor. 4.18. 

3 Ps. 148.5. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 265 

reason, being about to give us a pattern for our work. He 
observed a number of days and seasons. We, too, need time 
to do something well, so as not to hurry, our plans and works, 
or fail to keep a proper order. But when we read, as Scripture 
shows, 4 that God did all things with wisdom and certain 
foresight and purpose and order, it is consonant with reason 
that He first made heaven which is most beautiful. This must 
be so that we may lift our eyes there first and realize that 
we must arrive there, and esteem that abode preferable to all 
things of earth. 

Hence, He created the world in six days and on the 
seventh He rested from His works.' 5 The number seven is 
good; we shall treat it, not as do the Pythagoreans or other 
philosophers, but according to the form and divisions of 
spiritual grace, since the Prophet Isaias has included seven 
principal virtues of the Holy Spirit. 6 This sevenfold number, 
like that of the adorable Trinity of the Father and Son and 
Holy Spirit, without time or order, is the origin of number, 
being not bound by the law of number. And as the sky, the 
earth, and the sea were formed for the sake of the Trinity, 
as well as the sun, the moon, and the stars, so, too, do we 
note that for the sevenfold path and orbit of spiritual virtues, 
driven on by the vigor of a divine operation, a sevenfold 
ministry of planets was created for the illumination of the 
world. Their services are said to agree with their number, 
being called fixed stars or, as the Greeks say aplaneisJ The 
north has also received its Latin name, septemtrio? because 
a gleam of seven stars shines in it and pilots are said to keep 
it before their gaze as a guide. 

4 Cf. Ps. 103.24. 

5 Cf. Gen. 2.2. 

6 Cf. Isa. 11.2. 

7 Literally, 'not wanderers/ 

8 septemtrio, also called the Wain and the Great and Little Bear. 



266 SAINT AMBROSE 

This particular dignity of rank has come down from 
heaven to earth, not to mention the sevenfold gift of head, 
two eyes, two ears and nostrils, and the mouth by which we 
partake of great sweetness. How wonderful it is that for 
most men their genuine beginning is formed in the seventh 
month, 9 and one who will issue forth at a later time begins 
the course of his life's generation. But we see that nature 
itself prohibits the eighth month as the season for bringing 
forth children; if some grave necessity perchance opens the 
barrier of the womb 10 at that time, peril is advanced for the 
mother and child. 11 

A child, born at seven months, though born well, is 
born for hardships; but one who begins the mystery of 
regeneration on the eighth day is sanctified by grace and 
called to the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven. Great in 
the power of the Holy Spirit is the grace of seven, yet the same 
grace echoes in response to seven and consecrates the num- 
ber eight. In the one is the name; in the other, the enjoyed. 
Thus, the grace of the Spirit which was bestowed on the 
eighth day brought back to paradise those whom sin had 
made outcasts. 

The Old Testament took note of this number eight, called 
by us in Latin an octave, for Ecclesiastes says: 'Give a 
portion to those seven, and also to those eight.' 12 The seven 
of the Old Testament is the eight of the New, since Christ 
arose and the day of the new salvation has shed light upon 
all It is the day of which the Prophet says: This is the 
day which the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice at 
it.' 13 On that day there comes the splendor of a full and 

9 Le., the seventh month from conception. 

10 Cf. Virgil, Aen. 2.259. 

1 1 Here the Benedictine edition repeats sections 3 and 4 between sections 
4 and 5. The paragraphing is made consecutive here. 

12 Eccle. 11. 2, 

13 Ps. 117.24. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 



267 



perfect circumcision to the hearts of men. On this account 
the Old Testament gave the number eight a share in the 
ceremony of circumcision. But it still lay hidden in darkness. 
Then came the Sun of justice 14 and in the accomplishment 
of His passion He revealed the rays of His light, showing 
them to all, disclosing the brightness of eternal life. 

Those are the seven and eight of which Osee says that 
with this number he bought and took to himself the fullness 
of faith, for you read: 'And I went and bought her to me 
for fifteen pieces of silver and for a core of barley and for a 
half core of barley and a measure of wine.' 15 The Lord had 
told him previously to buy a harlot, and it is proof that he 
bought her since he declares how much he paid. The fifteen 
pieces of silver consist of seven and eight and symbolize the 
number seven and the number eight. By the price of the two 
Testaments, that is, of the fullness of faith, the prophecy 
received the consummation of faith, the Church received 
the fullness. By the first Testament the people of Israel were 
gained; by the second, the heathens and Gentiles. By the 
plenitude of faith the harlot is bought who seeks union with 
the Gentiles or with adulterous people of the Jews who left 
their Lord and the author of their virginal faith, spreading 
their assemblies all over the world. 

When he said e a core and a half core of barley,' under- 
stand that in a core there is full measure, in a half core 
half measure. The fullness is in the Gospel, only semi- 
perfection is in the Law, as we read when the Lord said: *I 
have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill.' 16 Elsewhere, 
too, we have the Lord saying through the Prophet Micheas: 
'Then this man will be our peace in the land of Israel, when 
the Assyrian shall come into his land, and seven shepherds and 

14 Cf. MaL 4.2. 

15 Osee 3.2. 

16 Matt. 5.17. 



268 SAINT AMBROSE 

eight jaws of men have risen against him.' 17 The faithful 
people then will enjoy perfect peace and freedom from all 
temptation and vanity, for peace and grace will shut out of 
their hearts the vanity of this world. Peace is of the Old 
Testament; grace, of the New. 

The seven shepherds are the commandments of the Law 
which in the rod of Moses guided and governed the flock 
through the desert. 18 The eight jaws of men are the com- 
mandments of the Gospel and the words of the Lord's mouth : 
'With the heart a man believes unto justice, and with the 
mouth profession of faith is made unto salvation.' 19 Those 
jaws are good by which we have tasted the gift of eternal 
life, devouring the remission of sins in the Body of Christ. 
In the Old Testament the jaw of death is bitter, since it is 
said: 'Strong death is all devouring.' 20 In the New Testament 
the jaw of death is sweet, for it has swallowed death, as the 
Apostle says: 'Death is swallowed up in victory? O death, 
where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?' 21 

To use, in addition, the Apostle's evidence: when God 
made man He rested the seventh day from all His works. 22 
But because the Jewish people through contempt refused to 
obey the commands of their God, the Lord said: c lf they 
shall enter into my rest. 323 God appointed another day and 
said of it: C O that you may hear My voice today.' 24 The 
words of Scripture include all days in two days, yesterday 
and today, as in the words: 'Imitate their faith in Jesus 
Christ, He is the same yesterday and today, yes, and for- 
ever.' 25 The promise is made the first day; the following day 

17 Mich. 5.5. 

18 Cf. Exod. 4.20. 

19 Rom. 10.10. 

20 Isa. 25.8 (Septuagint) . 

21 1 Cor. 15.54,55. 

22 Cf. Gen. 2.2. 

23 Ps. 94.11. 

24 Ps. 94.7. 

25 Heb, 13.7,8. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 269 

It is fulfilled. Since neither Moses nor Josue, the son of Nun, 
brought the people to their rest yesterday, Christ brought 
them today to whom His Father said: 'This day I have 
begotten thee.' 26 Through His resurrection Jesus has pur- 
chased rest for His people. Our rest is the Lord Jesus, who 
says: 'This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.' 27 Rest is 
in heaven; it is not on earth. 

What need have I to study the rising and the setting of 
the stars, 28 and at their rising plough up and pierce the 
fallow ground with hard ploughshares, or at their setting 
cut the fruitful crop? 29 One star means more to me than all 
the others, 'the bright morning star' 30 at whose rising was 
sown not the seed of grain but the seed of martyrs, that time 
when Rachel wept for her children 31 to offer for Christ her 
babes washed with her tears. 32 The setting of that star brought 
back in triumph from the tomb not the unfeeling relics of 
funeral piles, but bands of the living, who had been dead. 

The number seven should be esteemed because the life of 
man passes through seven stages to -old age, as Hippocrates, 33 
the master of medicine, has explained in his writings. The 
first age is infancy; the second, boyhood; the third, youth; 
fourth, adulthood; fifth, manhood; sixth, maturity; seventh, 
old age. So there is the infant, the child, the youth, the 
young man, the man, the man of experience, and the aged. 

Solon imagined that there were ten periods of life, each 
of seven years' duration. 34 The first period of infancy extends 
to the time when he cuts his teeth, which he uses in chewing 

26 Ps. 2.7. 

27 Luke 23.43. 

28 Cf. Virgil, Eel. 9.46. 

29 Cf. Virgil, Georg. 1.71. 

30 Apoc. 22.16. 

31 Cf. Jer. 31.15. 

32 The Holy Innocents. 

33 Ambrose here makes use of Philo Judaeus, ed. L. Cohn (Berlin 1896) . 
De mundi opificio 36.105 contains the reference to Hippocrates. 

34 Ibid. 35.104 contains the reference to Solon. 



270 SAINT AMBROSE 

his food and articulating his speech so that it Is distinct; 
boyhood extends to the time of puberty and carnal temp- 
tations; youth to the growth of the beard; adulthood to 
attaining of perfect manliness; the fifth age is manhood 
during its seven-year period it is fully adapted to marriage; 
the sixth period, too, is assigned to manhood, which is 
well-suited to display prudence and is vigorous in its action; 
the seventh period and the eighth show man ripe in years, 
vigorous in his faculties, and his speech endowed with a 
quality of delivery not unpleasant; the ninth period still has 
some strength left, while in speech and wisdom it is more 
mellow; the tenth period of seven years completes the span, 
and one who reaches this period will after the full course of 
time finally knock at the gate of death. 

Both Hippocrates and Solon admitted either seven ages 
or seven-year periods. In these the number seven should 
prevail. The eighth period introduces one continual period 
in which we grow up into a perfect man, knowing God, 
possessing the fullness of faith, wherein the measure of 
genuine life is fulfilled. 35 

Even in the organs of our body the number seven is 
favored. They say that we have seven organs within us: 
stomach, heart, lungs, spleen, liver, and the two kidneys. 
These are also seven outwardly: head, hind parts, abdomen, 
two hands, and two feet. 

These are very excellent, but they are subject to pain. 
Would anyone doubt that the number eight has a greater 
task, for it renews the whole man and makes him unable to 
suffer? Now that the seventh age of the world has been 
concluded, the grace of the eighth has dawned, and made man 
no longer of this world but above it. No longer do we live 
our life, but we live Christ: Tor me to live is Christ and to 
die is gain. ... I no longer live in the flesh, but in the faith 

35 Cf. Eph. 4.13. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 271 

of Christ.' 36 The Apostle has spoken and we know from this 
that the day of the world has drawn to a close. At the last 
hour, the Lord Jesus came and died for us. And we are all 
dead in Him so that we may live to God. 37 We who were 
do not live, but Christ lives in us. 38 

The number seven has gone; the number eight has come. 
Yesterday is gone; today has come. That is the promised 
day on which we have been warned to hear and follow 
God's word. The day of the Old Testament is gone; the new 
day has come wherein the New Testament is made perfect, 
of which he [Paul] says: 'Behold the days are coming, says 
the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house 
of Israel and with the house of Juda, not according to the 
covenant which I made with their fathers, in that day that I 
took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of 
Egypt.' 39 He adds the reason why the covenant was changed: 
'They did not abide by my covenant, and I did not regard 
them, says the Lord.' 40 

The priests of the Law and the sanctuaries of the Law have 
gone. Let us draw near our new High Priest, 41 to the throne of 
grace, 42 the Guest of our souls, the Priest, made not accord- 
ing to the law of the carnal commandment, but chosen by the 
power [of the command] which cannot end. 43 He did not 
take the honor to Himself, 44 but He was chosen by the 
Father, as the Father Himself says : Thou art a priest forever 
according to the order of Melchisedech.' 4 ^ We see what the 

36 Phil. 1.20. 

37 Cf. 1 John 2.18. 

38 Cf. 2 Cor. 5.15. 

39 Jer. 31.31,32. 

40 Heb. 8.9. 

41 Cf. Heb. 4.14. 

42 Heb. 4.16. 

43 Cf. Heb. 7.16. 

44 Cf. Heb. 5.4. 

45 Ps. 109.4; Heb. 7.17. 



272 SAINT AMBROSE 

new Priest has offered. Other priests make offerings for 
themselves and their people. This one, having no sin of His 
own for which He should make offerings, offered Himself for 
the world and by His own Blood entered the Holy of Holies. 

He, then, is the new Priest and the new Victim, not of 
the Law but above it, the Advocate of the world, the Light 
of time, who said: 'Behold I come, and he came. 546 Let us 
approach Him to adore Him in the fullness of faith and to 
hope in Him whom we do not see with our eyes, but whom 
we have in our heart. To Him is all honor always and glory. 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you. 



5L Ambrose to Horontianus, greetings (c. 387) 

You asked me whether the soul is in all likelihood a heavy 
substance, for you do not believe that the soul is blood or 
fire or a harmony of nerves, as ordinary philosophers teach. 
Again, it seems to you that the soul is that which moves 
itself and is moved by no other, for this is the teaching of 
the ancient line of followers of Plato. You feel at least, since 
Aristotle inferred with remarkable originality some sort of 
fifth element, that there is an element, entellechia, from 
which you would derive or form the substance of the soul. 1 

I suggest that you read the Book of Esdras, 2 for he has his 
back on those little nothings of the philosophers and with 
that deeper wisdom which he gathered from revelation has 
shown quite briefly that souls are of a superior substance. 

46 Apoc. 32.7. 

1 Cf. Plato, Laws 10.891, where he takes issue with Aristotle for saying 
that 'the first cause of the generation and destruction of ail things is 
not the first but the last.' But Cicero (Tusc. 1.10.22) calls entellechia 
'continuum.' 

2 Cf. 4 Esd. passim. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 273 

The Apostle, too, if not expressly, at least like a good 
teacher and spiritual farmer, quickening the souls of his 
disciples with hidden seeds of doctrine, leaves us to understand 
that our souls are of a higher order of creation and a most 
excellent nature. When he says that 'creation was made 
subject to vanity not by its own will but by reason of him 
who made it subject in hope, because creation itself will 
also be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the 
freedom of the glory of the sons of God,' 3 he shows that the 
grace of the soul is no small thing, for by its strength and 
power the human race rises to the adoption of sons of God, 
having in itself that which was given to it in the image and 
likeness of God. Souls are grasped by no touch, they are 
seen not with bodily eyes, and they have a likeness to that 
incorporeal and invisible nature, surpassing with their sub- 
stance the corporeal and sensible character of things. Objects 
which are seen are temporal, they indicate the temporal, they 
are bound up with the temporal; those which are not seen 
cling to that eternal and highest good, and in it they live 
and are and move. 4 Good men, if they take thought, do not 
let themselves be separated or drawn away from this [good]. 

Every soul, then, since it is enclosed within the hovel of 
the body, if it has not debased itself by partnership with this 
earthly habitation, sighs under the weight of union with the 
body, 5 because the corruptible body is a load upon the soul 
and the earthly habitation presses down the mind which 
muses on many things. 6 At the same time, realizing that it 
walks by faith and not by vision, it wishes to be exiled from, 
the body and to be at home with the Lord. 7 

Let us notice how the creature has been made subject to 

3 Rom. 8.20,21. 

4 Cf. Acts 17.28. 

5 Cf. 2 Cor. 5.4. 

6 Cf. Wis. 9.15. 

7 Cf. 2 Cor. 5.7,8. 



274 SAINT AMBROSE 

vanity, 8 not by its own wish, but by the divine will which 
has arranged that souls must be joined to a body in hope, 
so that while hoping for good things they may prepare them- 
selves to be worthy of a heavenly reward: Tor all of us 
must be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ, so that 
each one may receive what he has won through his body.' 9 
The soul of each person should make provision for the rewards 
to be meted out for life in the world. Very aptly does he 
say: 'what each has won through his body,' that is, what the 
part of man which must be ruled has taken upon itself. If 
she [the soul] has ruled this part well, let her receive the 
reward for which she was subject in hope; if badly, punish- 
ment, since she did not hope in God or strive for that 
adoption of sons and the freedom of true glory. 

The Apostle has taught us that created human nature is 
subject to vanity. What is so much a man as his soul? Of 
partnership with it, he says: 'When we are in the body, we 
sigh under our burden/ 10 But David also says: 'Man is like 
a breath of aid,' 11 and: 'All things are vanity: every man 
living.' 12 The life of man in this world is vanity. The soul 
is subject to this vanity. Therefore, when a saint does the 
things of the body, he does them, not by choice, not willingly, 
but by reason of Him who made him subject in hope so 
that he may obey Him. Let us proceed from this example of 
the soul to the rest of creation. 

Consider that the sun, the moon, and the stars, the lights 
of the sky which, though they shine with brilliant splendor, 
are yet creatures, and, whether they rise or fall in their daily 
performance of duty, they serve the will of the eternal 



8 Cf. Rom. 8.20. 

9 2 Cor. 5.10. 

10 2 Cor. 5.4. 

11 Ps. 143.4. 

12 Cf. Ps. 38.6. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 275 

Creator, bringing forth the beauty with which they are 
clothed and shining by day and by night. How often is the 
sun covered by clouds or taken from the gaze of the earth 
when the ray of its light k dispelled in the sky or an eclipse 
occurs, and as Scripture says: 'The moon knows its going 
down.' 13 It knows when it should shine in full light or 
weakened light. The stars, which are engaged in service to 
this world's advantage, disappear when they are covered by 
clouds, not willingly, surely, but in hope, because they hope 
for gratitude for their labor from Him who made them 
subject. Thus, they persevere for His sake, that is, for His will. 
It is not strange that they persevere with patience, since 
they know that their Lord and the Creator of all that is in 
heaven or on earth has taken upon Himself the frailty of 
our body, the slavery of our state. Why should they not 
persevere patiently in the servitude of their corruption when 
the Lord of all humbled Himself to death for the whole 
world, and took the form of a servant, 14 and was made the 
sin of the world and a curse for our sakes? Although the 
heavenly creatures, who imitate Him, may groan because 
they are subject to the vanity of this world, they console 
themselves in the thought that they will be set free from the 
slavery of corruption into the liberty of glory, at the coming 
of the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of all: 
'When the fullness of the Gentiles comes, then will all Israel 
be saved.' 15 Will He not forgive those people, He who forgave 
His persecutor who had said: 'Crucify him! Crucify him! 516 
and 'His blood be on us and on our children'? 17 But, because 
even the heavenly creation is subject to vanity, in hope the 

13 Ps. 103.19. 

14 Cf. Phil. 2.7. 

15 Rom. 11.25. 

16 John 19.6. 

17 Matt. 27.25. 



276 SAINT AMBROSE 

devotion to truth and the redemption of all will allow even 
their treachery and intoxication to arrive at pardon, since 
creation was brought low by the vanity of this world. 

To conclude, the sun, great as it is and such as it is, and 
the moon, which the shades of night do not cover, and the 
stars, which adorn the sky, all now endure the slavery of 
corruption because every body is a corruptible thing. Indeed, 
even the skies will perish and heaven and earth will pass. 18 
At length the sun and the moon and the other lights of the 
stars will rest in the glory of the sons of God, since God will 
be all in all, 19 and will be in you and in us by His plenitude 
and mercy. 

Do we not believe that the angels themselves groan in the 
performance of their various functions amid the toils of this 
world, as we read in the Apocalypse of John, 20 for they are 
made the ministers of penalties and destruction? They who 
enjoy the life of beatitude would surely prefer to return to 
that high state of peace rather than be involved in avenging 
the punishment of our sins. They who rejoice over the 
repentance of one sinner surely lament the hardships of so 
many sinners. 

If even heavenly creatures and powers endure the slavery 
of corruption, but through hope, so as to rejoice later for us 
and with us, let us also comfort ourselves for the sufferings 
of this time with the hope and expectation of future glory. 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you. 

18 Ct Matt. 24.35. 

19 Cf. 1 Cor. 15.28. 

20 Apoc. 3.1-22. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 277 

52. Ambrose to Horontianus (c. 387) 

My last letter answered your inquiry; this letter is a part 
of my answer which will not destroy but will fulfill the 
former. For, while I considered the matter further, I was 
disturbed, I admit, because he [Paul] added: Tor we know 
that all creation groans/ although in an earlier verse he had 
said without any addition: 'For creation was made subject 
to vanity.' He said not that 'every creature 3 but 'creation* 
has been made subject. And again, he says: 'Since creation 
itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption.' And, 
in the third place, he adds: 'every creature groans.' 1 

What does he wish to imply by this addition except, 
perhaps, that not every creature is subject to vanity, and, 
since not everyone is subject to vanity, not everyone will be 
freed from slavery to corruption? Why should that be set free 
which is unacquainted with and free from subjection to 
vanity and from slavery to corruption? Let everyone groan, 
not over his own labor but over ours, and give birth, per- 
chance, to that spirit of adoption of the sons of God that he 
may have a share in the joy and happiness over the redemp- 
tion of the human race. Everyone groans over our labor 
because of love for himself or for the member of his own body, 
of which the head is Christ. But, whether he meant this as 
we have said, or that every creature in subjection groans and 
gives birth, this understand as you wish. 

Let us now consider what he adds: 'And not only it, but 
we ourselves also who have the first fruits of the spirit we 
ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption as 
sons, the redemption of our body.' 2 What adoption of sons 
does the previous page teach? To explain the meaning we 
must go back to the previous page. 

1 Rom. 8.20-22. 

2 Rom. 8.23. 



278 SAINT AMBROSE 

He says that one who puts to death the deeds of the flesh 
will live. 3 It is not strange that he lives, since one who has 
the spirit of God becomes a son of God. It is for this reason 
that he is the Son of God so that he may receive not the spirit 
of slavery but the spirit of the adoption of sons, inasmuch as 
the Holy Spirit gives proof to our spirit that we are the sons of 
God. The proof of this comes from the Holy Spirit, because 
it is He Himself who cries out in our hearts : 'Abba, Father,' 
as it was written to the Galatians. 4 It is also a powerful proof 
that we are sons of God in that we are heirs of God, co-heirs 
with Christ, and He is co-heir of the one who glorifies Him, 
and He, too, glorifies him who by suffering for Him suffers 
with Him. 5 

In order to encourage us to suffer, he adds that all our 
suffering is less than and not to be compared to the great 
reward of the future blessing which will be revealed to us in 
return for these hardships, and that, when we have been 
formed to the image of God, we will deserve to see His glory 
face to face. 

To enhance the greatness of the future revelation he adds 
that creation also awaits this revelation of the sons of God, 
being now subject to vanity, not by its own will but in hope, 
for it hopes for gratitude from Christ for the service which it 
rendered Him, and because it will itself be freed from slavery 
to corruption, that it may be taken up into the liberty of the 
glory of the sons of God, so that there will be a single liberty 
of creation and of the sons of God when their glory is 
revealed. But now, while the revelation is postponed, every 
creature groans, awaiting the glory of our adoption and re- 
demption, giving birth to that spirit of salvation, and wishing 
to be freed from slavery to vanity. 

3 Cf. Rom. 8.13. 

4 Gal. 4.6. 

5 Cf. Rom. 8.16,18. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 279 

To this the Apostle joins the groaning of the saints who 
have the first fruits of the Spirit. Even they groan. Although 
they are saved by their merits, they are compassionate because 
the redemption of the world is yet to come. For, while the 
members of their body suffer, how can the other members, 
although superior ones, not feel compassion for the distressed 
members of the one body? 

For this reason, I think, the Apostle said that at that time 
even the Son Himself will be made subject, the one who 
subjected all things to Himself. 6 Those who still labor are not 
yet made subject, and in them, perhaps, Christ still thirsts, 
still hungers; in them He is naked because they still do not 
fulfill the word of God, they do not put on Christ, who is the 
garment of believers, the cloak of the faithful. But those in 
whom He is weak still need medicine, and they have not yet 
become His subjects. It is a subjection of strength, not of 
weakness. The Son of God is made subject in the strong and 
in those who do the will of God. He now works more in 
those who do not assist the laborers than He does in those 
who ask assistance for themselves* This is a holy and true 
interpretation of the subjection of the Lord Jesus, who will 
make Himself subject so that God may be all things to all men. 

We are arriving at the Apostle's meaning. Let us now 
consider who those are who have the first-fruits of the Spirit. 7 
Let us then ask the Old Law what it means by the word 
'first-fruits' or 'firstlings.' It says: Thou shalt not hold back 
the first-fruits of the threshing floor and thy water,' 8 and 
further on: 'Thou shalt offer the first-fruits of thy first pro- 
ducts to the house of the Lord thy God.' 9 Some are first- 
fruits; others are tithes. First-fruits have greater favor and 

6 Cf. 1 Cor. 15.28. 

7 Cf. Rom. 8.13. 

8 Exod. 22.29. 

9 Exod. 34.26. 



280 SAINT AMBROSE 

are held in very great reverence. Abel was very pleasing since 
without holding back he offered his gift, a firstling of his 
flock. 10 Some may wish to distinguish between first-fruits 
and firstlings, that is, what is born first, because when the 
seed has been gathered it may be offered as the very first- 
fruits of the harvest; yet, what is taken first from the harvest 
is offered to the Lord, but that from the threshing floor 
[is offered] to others. 11 Indeed, the whole harvest of grain 
seems to become holy when the first-fruits are given as a 
gift, but the first-fruits themselves are holier still. 

Likewise, the saints are the first-fruits of the Lord, partic- 
ularly the Apostles. God first placed Apostles in the Church 
who prophesied many things and preached the Lord Jesus, 
for they first received Him. 12 Simeon the Prophet first received 
Him; 13 Zachary the Prophet received Him, and so did his 
son John; and Nathaniel in whom there was no guile, 14 who 
was reclining under a fig tree; and Joseph, who was called 
just, who buried Him. 15 These are the first-fruits of our faith, 
although the same nature but less grace may be in some 
first-fruits as in some seeds: 'God is able out of these stones 
to raise up children to Abraham.' 16 

Lo, you have an example from the Lord Jesus Himself. In 
the resurrection of the dead He is called the first-born from 
the dead. 17 Yet, the Apostle has shown that the same one is 
the first-fruit, in the words: In Christ all are made to live, 

10 Cf. Gen. 4.4. 

11 Ambrose makes a distinction between first-fruits (primitia) and first- 
lings (initia) . First-fruits are taken from the harvest field; they consist 
of ears of corn and are to be used in asking favors. Firstlings are from 
the threshing floor; they are the pure seeds and are to be used in 
rendering thanks to God. 

12 Cf. 1 Cor. 12.28. 

13 Cf. Luke 2.28. 

14 Cf. John L47. 

15 Cf. Luke 23.53. 

16 Matt. 3.9. 

17 Cf. Col. 1.18. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 281 

but each in his own turn. Christ is the first-fruits; then, they 
who are Christ's, who have believed in His coming.' 18 The 
same reality of body is in Him as in us, but still He is called 
the first-born of the dead because He arose first, and He is 
called the first-fruits because He is holier than all fruits, since 
He sanctified the other fruits of His union. He is also the 
firstling of those who are in His image, just as He is the 
image of the invisible God, 19 in whom, in accord with the 
divinity, there is nothing corporeal, nothing temporal, for He 
is the splendor of the Father's glory, and the image of His 
substance. Our letter has run to the length of a sermon 
while we are endeavoring to show what are first-fruits. 

Our first-fruits are the Apostles, who were chosen out of 
all the fruits of that time, to whom it was said : 'And greater 
than these you will do,' 20 since the grace of God poured itself 
out upon them. They, I say, groaned while they awaited the 
redemption of the whole body, and they still groan, because 
of the toil of many who still waver. If a man reaches the 
shore but is still buffetted by waves around his waist, he 
groans and travails until he emerges entirely. In the same 
way he groans who is still saying to us: 'Who is weak, and 
I am not weak?' 21 

Let us not be disturbed because it has been so written: 
'We who have the first-fruits of the spirit we ourselves 
groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption as sons, the 
redemption of our body.' 22 The meaning is clear why those 
who have the first-fruits of the spirit groan while they await 
the adoption as sons. This adoption as sons is the redemption 
of the whole body. When it is face to face as a son of God it 
will see that divine and eternal good. The adoption as sons 

18 1 Cor. 15.22. 

19 Cf. Gal. 1.15. 

20 John 14.12. 

21 2 Cor. 11.29. 

22 Rom. 8.23. 



282 SAINT AMBROSE 

is in the Church of the Lord when the Spirit cries: 'Abba, 
Father/ as you have it said to the Galatians. But it [the 
adoption] will be perfect when all will rise in incorruption, in 
honor, and in glory, worthy to see the face of God. Then 
will humanity know that it is truly redeemed. So the Apostle 
boasts in the words: Tor in hope were we saved.' 23 Hope 
saves, as does faith, also, of which it is said: Thy faith has 
saved thee. 524 

Thus the creature which is subject to vanity, not by its 
own will but in hope, is saved by hope, as was also Paul, for, 
although he knew that it was gain to die so that, freed from 
the body, he might be with Christ, he remained in the flesh 
for the sake of those whom he was gaining for Christ. 25 
What is hope, if not the awaiting of things to come? So he 
says: Hope that is seen is not hope/ 26 Not things seen, but 
things unseen, are eternal. Does anyone hope for what he sees? 
We seem to have what we see; how, then, do we hope for 
what we have? So, none of the things which are hoped for 
are seen, for: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, what God 
has prepared for those who love Him.' 27 

If the unseen cannot be hoped for, they do not say rightly: 
'What one sees, that he also hopes,' unless they say: 'What 
one sees, why should he also hope for,' or what does he wait 
for? It is true that we hope for what we do not see, and, 
although it seems far removed from us, we hope for it in 
patience: 'Hoping I hoped in the Lord, and he looked down 
on me.' 28 For this reason we hope patiently, because 'The 
Lord is good to those who wait for him.' 29 This seems to 



23 Rom. 8.24. 

24 Luke 18.42. 

25 Cf. Phil. 1.2. 

26 Rom. 8.24, 

27 1 Cor. 2.9. 

28 Ps. 39.2. 

29 Thren. 3.25. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 283 

mean that he returned by reason of our patience. We expect 
what we hope for and do not see. He does much who hopes 
and expects things which are not seen. And because he turns 
his attention to that which is everything, he continues 
steadfast. 

It is aptly said, therefore, regarding the power and riches 
of this world: 'But hope that is seen is not hope.' 30 You 
see that, when one is renowned for power and chariots, he 
has no hope of chariots which he sees. We do not put our hope 
in the element of heaven, but in the Lord of heaven. A 
Chaldean astronomer has no hope in the stars which he 
studies, nor does the rich man in his possessions, nor the miser 
in his gain. But he has hope who puts his hope in Him whom 
he does not see, that is, in the Lord Jesus, who stands in our 
midst and is not seen. 31 Finally, 'Eye has not seen, nor ear 
heard, what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him.' 32 



53. Ambrose to Horontianus (c. 387) 

Our letters are forming a chain and we seem to be letting 
the chips fly in the presence of one another. I get the 
material for my letter-writing from your questioning, and 
you get yours from my explanations. 

You have pointed out that you wonder of what spirit 
it was said: 'Because he pleads for us with unutterable 
groaning. 51 Let us go on, so that the reading will make clear 
what we are searching for: 'But in like manner the Spirit 
also helps the weakness of our prayer.' Does not this seem to 
be the Holy Spirit, for He is our helper, to whom it is said: 

30 Rom. 8.24. 

31 Cf. John 1.26. 

32 1 Cor, 2.9, 

1 Rom. 8.26. 



284 SAINT AMBROSE 

Thou art my help; cast me not off, and abandon me not, 
O God, my Saviour/ 2 

What other spirit could teach Paul what to pray for? The 
Spirit of Christ teaches, as Christ also teaches His disciples 
to pray. 3 And, after Christ, who would teach if not His Spirit 
whom He Himself sent to teach and direct our prayers? We 
pray with the Spirit; we pray, too, with the understanding. 4 
In order that the understanding be able to pray well, the 
Spirit goes on ahead and leads it on to a level road, 5 so that 
things of the flesh or things less or greater than our strength 
may not surprise it: 'Now the manifestation of the Spirit is 
given to everyone for profit.' 6 Moreover, it has been written: 
'Seek the great and the little will be given you. Seek heavenly 
things and those of earth will be given/ 7 

He wishes us to seek greater things, not to linger among 
earthly ones. He who allots to each according as He wills 8 
knows what He will give. Sometimes, knowing our limitations 
of which we are ignorant, He says: Tou cannot now receive 
this.' I pray for the sufferings of a martyr for myself the 
Holy Spirit is willing 9 but when He sees the weakness of 
my flesh, fearing that while I seek too great things I may 
lose the smaller ones, He says: 'You cannot receive these.' 
What opportunities I have had, and have been called back 
almost from the goal! 10 A good doctor knows what food is 
suitable for the state of illness, and at what stage in the 

2 Ps. 26,9. 

3 CL Luke 11.1. 

4 Cf. 1 Cor. 14.15. 

5 Cf. Ps. 142.10. 

6 1 Cor. 12.7. 

7 Matt. 6.35. 

8 Cf. 1 Cor. 12.11. 

9 Cf. Matt. 26.41. 

10 The persecution of the Arian empress and Ambrose's embassy to the 
usurper Maximus show that Ambrose was not unwilling to be a 
martyr. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 285 

course of the recovery. Sometimes the taking of food brings 
back good health, but if one takes it at the wrong time or 
takes what is not suitable he is imperiled. 

Therefore, since we do not know what we pray for, and 
how we should pray, the Holy Spirit asks for us. 11 He is the 
Spirit of Jesus, our Advocate. And He asks with unspeakable 
groanings, as Christ, too, grieves for us. 12 And God the Father 
says: 'My bowels are in pain.' 13 We read that He was often 
angry and grieved. He groans that He may take away our 
sins, that He may teach us to do penance. It is a reverent 
groan, filled with power, of which the Prophet says: 'My 
groaning is not hidden from thee.' 14 He did not hide like 
Adam, but He said: 'Behold, I am the shepherd. But as for 
this flock, in what has it been sinful? It is I that have sinned; 
punish thou me/ 15 

From this comes the groaning of the Spirit of God, and 
the groaning of the Prophet, well-nigh ineffable because it is 
heavenly. The things that Paul heard in heaven were in- 
effable. Thus, men should not utter what is hidden to men, 
although known to God. He, the searcher of our hearts, 
knows all things, but He searches what the Spirit has purified. 
Therefore, God knows what the Spirit is asking and what is 
the wisdom of the Spirit which pleads for the saints, as you 
read: 'The Spirit also pleads for us.' 16 It is those for whom 
Christ suffered and whom He cleansed with His blood for 
whom also the Spirit pleads. 

Farewell, and as a son love us, because we love you. 

11 Cf. Rom. 8.26. 

12 Cf. Isa. 53.4. 

13 Jer. 14.9. 

14 Ps. 37.10. 

15 1 Par. 21.17. 

16 Rom. 8.27. 



286 SAINT AMBROSE 

54. Ambrose to Simplidanus, greetings 1 (c. 386) 

You remarked recently when we were chatting in a way 
characteristic of our long-standing affection that it pleased 
you to have me preach to my people on some of the writings 
of the Apostle Paul. Since his depth of meaning is understood 
only with difficulty, he should lead the one who hears him to 
lofty thoughts and should set on fire the commentator. In 
some instances, in fact, the speaker engages in exegesis and, 
having nothing of his own to add, being anxious to say 
something, fulfills the task of grammarian rather than exegete. 

I realize in this complaint the result of our old friendship 
and, what is more, a tenderly fatherly love (for the passage 
of time brings intimacy, along with many benefits, but a 
father's love does not) . 2 Then, too, because I feel that I have 
already done not without spirit what you are asking, I shall 
obey your wish, advised and instigated by my own pattern 
by no means difficult for me. I will not be imitating some 
great personage, but myself, as I return to some of my own 
insignificant practices. 

Now, as regards our plan, I think that when we express in 
our sermons the metaphor and representation of the happy 
life, we have reached a conclusion which most persons", and 
especially you, a friend, will not find unsuitable. Yet it is 
more difficult not to displease your judgment than that of 
most others, though, by your devotion, you lighten the weight 
of your judgment and render it much milder to me. 

Yet the Epistle, which troubled you after you were gone, 
has to do with the meaning of Paul the Apostle, who says in 
calling us from slavery to liberty: 'You have been bought 
with a price; do not become the slaves of men.' 3 In this he 

1 The first of four letters to Simplidanus, Bishop of Milan after 
the death of Ambrose in 397. He was instrumental in the conversion 
of St. Augustine (Conf. 8.1,2,5) . 

2 Cf. Conf. 8.2, where Augustine says that Ambrose loved Simplidanus 
'truly as a father.' 

3 1 Cor. 7.23. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 



287 



shows that our liberty consists in the knowledge of wisdom. 
This passage has been pitched and tossed on a great mass of 
discussion by philosophers, who say that every wise man is 
free, every fool is a slave. 

This was said long before by a son of David in the words : 
'A fool is changed like the moon/ 4 A wise man is not shattered 
by fear, or changed by power, or elated by good fortune, or 
overwhelmed by sadness. Where there is wisdom there are 
strength of spirit and perseverance and fortitude. The wise 
man is constant in soul, not deflated or elated by changing 
events. He does not toss like a child, carried about by every 
wind of doctrine, but remains perfected in Christ, grounded 
by charity, rooted by faith. The wise man is never idle and 
experiences no changing states of mind. But he will shine like 
the Sun of justice that shines in the kingdom of His Father. 5 

Let us consider the source of that philosophy from which 
the patriarchs drew their wisdom and learning. Was not Noe 
the first to curse his son when he learned that Chanaan 6 had 
made fun of his nakedness: 'Cursed be Chanaan; meanest of 
slaves shall he be to his brethren,' 7 and he put as lords over 
him his brothers, who with wisdom knew that they should 
respect their father's years. 

Did not Jacob, that source of all wisdom, who by reason 
of his wisdom was preferred to his elder brother, 8 pour an 
abundance of this reasoning into the hearts of all? Although 
the devoted father felt a father's affection for both his sons, 
he judged each differently (for love is not estranged from 
kinship, but judgments are formed according to merit). 
Hence, he gave favor to one, pity to the other, favoring the 
wise, but pitying the unwise because he could not rise to 

4 Eccli. 27.12. 

5 Cf. Matt. 13.43. 

6 Chem. 

7 Gen. 9.25. 

8 Cf. Gen. 27.29. 



288 SAINT AMBROSE 

valorous deeds by his own strength or advance his steps at 
will. Thus, he blessed him so that he would serve his brother 
and be his slave, revealing how the lack of wisdom is brought 
low by servitude, that his slavery may be a remedy for him, 
because the foolish man cannot rule himself, and if he is 
without a guide he is undone by his own desires. 

After due deliberation, the devoted father made him his 
brother's slave so that he would be guided by the other's 
prudence. Thus, to indiscreet persons the wise become as 
rulers to guide by their power the foolishness of the crowd 
which they rule under the guise of power, when they bring 
unwilling subjects to obey those who are more wise and to 
submit to the laws. So he put a yoke on the foolish one as on 
an unruly man, and he denied liberty to one who he decreed 
must live by his sword. He put his brother over him so that he 
might not sin by his temerity, but that, being subject to his 
authority and limitations, he might come to repentance. 
Slavery, you see, draws a distinction (some are weak of 
necessity though strong of purpose, because that is more 
beautiful which is done not of necessity but willingly), and 
so he put on him the yoke of necessity and later secured for 
him the blessing of willing subjection. 

Not nature but foolishness makes the slave. Not manumis- 
sion but learning makes a man free. Esau was born free, but 
he became a slave; Joseph was sold into slavery, 9 but he was 
raised to power 10 that he might rule those who had purchased 
him. Yet he did not slight his obligation to work zealously; 
he clung to the heights of virtue; he preserved the liberty 
of innocence, the stronghold of blamelessness. So the Psalmist 
beautifully says: 'Joseph had been sold into slavery. They 
had bound his feet with fetters.' 11 'He had been sold into 

9 Cf. Gen. 37.28. 

10 Cf. Gen. 41.41. 

11 Ps. 104.17,18. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 289 

slavery,' he says; he did not become a slave. They had bound 
his feet, but not his soul. 

How is his soul bound when he says: The iron pierced 
his soul 5 ? 12 Although the souls of others were pierced with sin 
(iron is sin, because it pierces within), the soul of blessed 
Joseph did not lie open to sin, but pierced through sin. He 
was not swayed by the beauty of his mistress 5 charms and so 
he did not experience the flames of passion, for he was aflame 
with the greater flame of divine grace. Thus, it is said very 
aptly of him: 'Because the word of the Lord burned him/ 13 
and with this he quenched the fiery darts of the Devil. 

How was he a slave, the man who showed the princes of 
his people how to regulate the corn supply, so that they 
knew beforehand and made provision for the coming famine? 
Or was he a slave, the man who took possession of the whole 
country of Egypt and reduced its entire population to 
slavery? 14 This he did, not in order to put upon them the 
status of ignoble slavery, but to impose a tax, except upon 
the property of the priests, which remained free from tax 
because among the Egyptians the priestly caste was held in 
reverence. 

A sale did not make a slave of him, though he was sold to 
traders. Thinking in terms of a price, you will find many 
who have purchased young girls of unusual beauty and, 
being enamored of them, have reduced themselves to shameful 
slavery. The concubine of King Darius, Apene, appeared 
sitting on his right when she took the crown from his head 
and put it on her own, and struck his face with her left 
hand. The king gazed at her with delight and smiled when- 
ever the woman smiled at him. But if she showed contempt 
for him he thought he was unhappy and distressed, and if he 

12 Ps. 104.18. 

13 Ps. 104.19. 

14 Cf. Gen. 47.20. 



290 SAINT AMBROSE 

lost his power over her he would speak soft words and beg 
her to be reconciled with him, 15 

But why do we take great pains to assert this? Do we not 
ordinarily see parents ransomed by their children when they 
have fallen into the power of pirates or savage barbarians? 
Are the laws of ransom stronger than the laws of nature? Is 
filial piety being forced into slavery? There are merchants of 
lions, yet they do not rule them, but when they see them 
angrily shake their shaggy masses from their neck 16 they flee 
and seek shelter. The money which purchased these masters 
for them makes no difference, nor do the auction tables on 
which the buyer is generally judged and sentenced. The 
agreement does not change his condition of birth or take 
away the freedom of wisdom. Many free men are servants of 
a wise slave and he is a wise slave who rules his foolish 
masters. 17 

Who do you think is more free? Only that wisdom is 
free which sets the poor over riches and makes slaves draw 
interest on their masters, not drawing money as interest, but 
wisdom. That talent draws interest from the Lord's eternal 
treasury which is never despoiled and whose gain is priceless. 
That knowledge draws as interest the silver of heavenly 
speech of which the Law says: Thou shalt lend to many 
nations and thou shalt never borrow.' 18 The Hebrew 19 loaned 
to the nations; he did not receive knowledge from the people, 
but, instead, gave it. To him the Lord opened His treasury 
to bedew the Gentiles with the water of His speech and make 
them the prince of nations having no prince above them. 

The free man is the wise man who was bought with the 
price of heavenly speech, the gold and silver of God's word, 

15 Cf. 3 Esd. 4.29,30. 

16 Cf. Virgil, Aeneid 12.7. 

17 Cf. Prov. 17.2. 

18 Detu, 15.6. 

19 I.e., Joseph. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 291 

bought with the price of blood (not least important is it to 
know the buyer), bought with the price of grace, for he 
heard and understood the one who said : C A11 you who thirst, 
come to the waters; and you that have no money, make 
haste, buy and eat and drink.' 20 

The free man is the warrior who sees a woman of comely 
beauty and takes his enemy's wealth as booty; then, when he 
is beset with longing and finds her, he sells what he does not 
need, removes the cloak she wore when she was taken, and 
weds the woman who is no longer a slave, but free. He knows 
that his learning and wisdom will not make him subject to 
her slavedom. Therefore, the Law says: 'She may not be 
sold for money,' 21 since nothing precious deserves this. And 
Job says: 'Draw out wisdom in deeper places.' 22 The topaz 
of Ethiopia will not be compared to her, being reckoned 
more precious than gold and silver. 

Not only is the person free who has not fallen to the buyer's 
bid, nor seen the finger raised, 23 but that man rather is free 
who is free within himself, free by the law of nature, knowing 
that the law of nature has been laid down by custom, not by 
conditions, and that the extent of man's duties harmonizes 
not with his choice but with the teachings of nature. Would 
that man only seem free to you who appeared as a censor 
and prefect of morals? Scripture says very truly that the poor 
will rule over riches, and the borrowers over creditors. 24 

Would that man seem free in your estimation who bought 
votes for himself with money, standing more in need of the 
approval of the populace than of the opinion of the wise? Is 
he free if he is swayed by popular opinion and dreads the 

20 Isa. 55.1. 

21 Cf. Deut. 21.10-14. 

22 Job 28.18, 

23 A reference to the ancient custom whereby one who had purchased a 
slave raised his finger as a guarantee of the sale. 

24 Cf. Prov. 22.7. 



292 SAINT AMBROSE 

whisper of the crowd? The freedman does not receive liberty 
when the hand of the lictor is laid on him. 25 I consider not 
wealth but virtue as liberty, for it does not bow to the wishes 
of the stronger, and it is laid hold of and possessed by one's 
own greatness of soul The wise man is always free; he is 
always held in honor; he is always master of the laws. The 
law is not made for the just but for the unjust. 26 The just 
man is a law unto himself and he does not need to summon 
the law from afar, for he carries it enclosed in his heart, 
having the law written on the tablets of his heart, and it is 
said to him: 'Drink water out of thy own vessels and from 
the stream of thy own well' 27 What is so close to us as the 
Word of God? This is the word on our heart and on our lips 
which we behold not but hold. 

The wise man is free, since one who does as he wishes is 
free. Not every wish is good, but the wise man wishes only 
that which is good; he hates evil for he chooses what is good. 
Because he chooses what is good he is master of his choice 
and because he chooses his work is he free. Then, because he 
does what he wishes the free man is wise. The wise man does 
well everything that he does. One who does all things well does 
all things rightly, But one who does all things rightly does 
everything without offense, without blame, without loss and 
disturbance within himself. And one who does nearly every- 
thing without giving offense acts blamelessly and acts without 
disturbance to himself, without loss. He does not act unwisely 
but wisely in all things. One who acts with wisdom has 
nothing to fear, for fear lies in sin. Where there is no fear 
there is liberty; where there is liberty there is the power of 
doing what one wishes. Therefore, only the wise man is free. 

25 A rod, called a festuca, was laid on the manumitted slave by a praetor 
or lictor. 

26 Ct". 1 Tim. 1.9. 

27 Prov. 5.15. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 293 

One who cannot be forced or held in check is by no means 
a slave; the wise man cannot be forced or forbidden; a 
slave, therefore, is not wise. One who does not enjoy what he 
desires is held in check. But what does the wise man desire 
except what belongs to virtue and learning, without which he 
cannot exist? These are in him and they cannot be torn from 
him. If they are torn away, then he is no longer a wise man, 
for he is without the habit of virtue and without learning, of 
which he defrauds himself if he is not a willing broker of 
virtue. If compulsion is used on him it is clear that he acts 
unwillingly. In all our deeds there are either corrections by 
virtue, missteps by malice, or that which is midway or 
lacking in distinction. The wise man is not forced to virtue 
but he is a willing follower of it, because in fleeing evil he 
drives out all that is pleasing [to the senses] and does not let 
sleep overtake him. In what is neither good nor evil he is not 
disturbed so as to be swayed to this side and that like the 
common crowd, but his mind hangs, as it were, in a perfectly 
balanced scale. Thus, he leans neither entirely toward pleasure 
nor in the direction of what he should reject, but, showing 
moderate interest, he remains fixed in purpose. Therefore, it 
appears that the wise man does nothing unwillingly nor by 
force. If he were a slave he would be forced; therefore, the 
wise man is free. 

The Apostle, too, declares this to be true when he says: 
'Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? 328 Indeed, he is so 
free that when certain persons slipped in to spy on his 
liberty, as he himself says, 29 he would not yield in submission 
for one hour, that the truth of the Gospel might be preached. 
As one who did not cease he preached willingly. Where 
there is willingness there is the reward of willingness; where 
there is necessity, there is subservience to necessity. Willingness 

28 l Cor. 9.1. 

29 Cf. Gal. 2.5. 



294 SAINT AMBROSE 

is better, therefore, than necessity. The wise man must be 
willing, the foolish man must obey and serve. 

This is the declaration of the Apostle, who says: 'If I do 
this willingly, I shall have a reward. But if unwillingly, it 
is a stewardship that has been entrusted to me. 530 The wise 
man is given a reward, yet he acts willingly; therefore, 
according to the Apostle, the free man is wise. Hence, he 
himself cries out: 'For you have been called to liberty; only 
do not use liberty as an occasion for sensuality.' 31 He 
separates the Christian from the Law that he may not seem 
to fall under the Law unwillingly. He calls him to the Gospel 
which they who are willing preach and carry out. The Jew 
is under the Law, the Christian in the midst of the Gospel. 
There is slavery under the Law, liberty in the Gospel, for in 
it is the understanding of wisdom. Everyone who accepts 
Christ is wise; he who is wise is free; every Christian, then, is 
both free and wise. 

The Apostle has taught me that beyond this liberty there is 
the liberty of being a slave: 'For free though I was,' he says, 
C I made myself a slave of all that I might gain the more 
converts.' 32 What lies beyond that liberty except to have the 
spirit of grace, to have charity? Liberty makes us free before 
men, charity a friend before God. Therefore Christ said : 'But 
I have called you friends.' 33 Charity is good and of it is said: 
'By the charity of the Spirit serve one another.' 34 Christ, too, 
was a servant so that He might make all men free. 'His hands 
have served in the basket.' 35 He who did not think it robbery 
to be equal with God took the nature of a slave, 36 and He 

30 1 Cor. 9.17. 

31 GaL 5.13. 

32 1 Cor. 8.19. 

33 John 15.15. 

34 Gal. 5.13. 

35 Ps. 80.7. 

36 Cf. Phil. 2.6. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 295 

became all things to all men to bring salvation to all. 37 Paul, 
an imitator of Him, as if he was under the Law and lived as 
if outside the Law, spent his life for the advantage of those 
whom He wished to gain. He willingly became weak for the 
weak in order to strengthen them; he ran the race to overtake 
them; he chastised his body to triumph in Christ over natures 
of bronze. 38 

A wise man, though he be a slave, is at liberty; and from 
this it follows that, though a fool rule, he is in slavery, and, 
what is worse, though he have care of a very few, he is slave 
to more and harsher masters. For he is slave to his passions; 
he is slave to his own wishes; he cannot escape his rulers 
night or day because he has these rulers within him; within 
he suffers unbearable slavery. Slavery is twofold, one of the 
body and the other of the soul, men being masters of the body, 
but sin and passion masters of the soul, and from these only 
liberty of spirit frees a man so that he is delivered from his 
servitude. 

Let us look for that truly wise man, the truly free man, 
who, although he lives under the rule of many, says freely: 
'Who is he that will plead against me? Do thou alone with- 
draw thy hand from me, and from thy face I will not be 
able to hide; and let not thy dread terrify me. 539 

King David following him said: 'Against thee only have I 
sinned.' 40 In his regal position, like the lord of laws he was 
not subject to laws, but he was guilty before God who alone is 
Lord of hosts. 

Listen to another free man: 'But with me it is a very 
small matter to be judged by you or by man's tribunal. Nay, 
I do not even judge my own self. For I have nothing on my 

37 Cf. 1 Cor. 9.22. 

38 See Plato Resp. 3.415 A-C, for the allusion to men of gold, of silver, 
and of bronze. 

39 Job 13.19-21. 

40 Ps. 50.6. 



296 SAINT AMBROSE 

conscience ... but he who judges me is the Lord.' 41 True 
liberty belongs to the spiritual man, for he judges all things, 
but is himself judged by no one/ 2 not by anyone who shares 
his created nature. He knows that he is subject to God alone, 
who alone is without sin, of whom Job says: 'God liveth, 
who so judges me/ 43 for He alone can judge the just man in 
whose sight the heavens are not pure, nor the lights of the 
stars shining and clear. 

Who is he who puts into the midst of Sophocles' play 
those verses which say: 'Jupiter is over me but no man'? 
How much more ancient is Job, how much more aged is 
David? They should know that they have drawn their ex- 
cellent sayings from our writers. 44 

Is a man wise if he does not reach the secrets of the 
Godhead and learn the hidden things of wisdom revealed to 
him? He alone is wise, then, who uses as his guide God to 
search out the lair of truth, and although a mortal he becomes 
the heir of His immortal God, successor by grace and par- 
taker of His joy, as it is written: 'Therefore God, thy God, 
has anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.' 45 

If one looks into this state of affairs more closely he will 
learn how great are the advantages to the wise and how 
great the hindrances to the unwise, because to the former 
liberty is a help, to the latter servitude is a hindrance. The 
wise man emerges as a victor over those who warred with 
him, triumphing over lust, fear, cowardice, gloom and other 
vices, until he puts them out of the hold of his mind and 
beats them back and shuts them from his boundaries and his 
lands. Like a careful leader he knows he should beware of 
the onrush of brigands and certain strategies of war by means 

41 I Cor. 4.3,4. 

42 Cf. 1 Cor. 2.15. 

43 Job 27.2. 

44 Cf. Letter 81 for this same thought. 

45 Ps. 44.8. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 297 

of which hostile enemies of the soul often throw flaming 
arrows. 46 For we have certain battles in time of peace and 
peace in time of war. So he also says: 'Conflicts without, 
anxieties within.' 47 'But in all these we overcome because of 
him who loved us.' 48 And he says he is frightened neither by 
troubles, nor persecutions, nor hunger, nor danger, nor death. 

Is a man not a slave if he shudders at these [trials] and is 
fearful of death? Surely he is a slave, and his state of slavery 
is pitiable. Nothing so reduces the soul to total slavery as does 
the fear of death. How will that mind raise itself which is 
cast down, poor and debased, if it has been given over to a 
whole whirlpool of weakness by its longing for this life? See 
how the slave says: C I shall hide myself, and I shall be 
mourning and fearful on earth, and it will happen that who- 
soever finds me will kill me.' 49 Then, like a slave, he received 
a mark and he could not escape death. Thus is the sinner a 
slave to fear, a slave to desire, a slave to greed, a slave to 
lust, a slave to sin, a slave to anger, and, though such a man 
appears to himself free, he is more a slave than if he were 
under tyrants. 

The free are those who abide by the laws. True law is a 
direct statement, true law is not carved on tablets, nor in- 
scribed on bronze, but stamped on the mind and imprinted 
in the senses. Since a wise man is not under the law he is a 
law to himself, for he carries the law in his heart in a mode 
of expression natural to himself and embellished with a sort 
of heading. Is our blindness such that we do not see very 
evident declarations of ideas and examples of virtues? How 
degrading it is that respectable men obey human laws that 
they may share freedom, yet the wise cast aside and abandon 

46 furta belli. Cf. Virgil, Aen. 11.515. 

47 Cf. 2 Cor. 7.5. 

48 Rom. 8.37. 

49 Gen. 4.14. 



298 SAINT AMBROSE 

the true law of nature, though they are made to the image of 
God and bear the true mark of freedom. So great is this 
freedom that as children we do not know how to be slaves 
to vice, we are strangers to anger, we are free from greed, 
unacquainted with lust. How sad it is that we who are born 
in freedom die in slavery ! 

This comes from inconstancy and weakness of character, 
for we are concerned over foolish worries and spend ourselves 
uselessly. The wise man's heart, his acts, his work must be 
deeply rooted and immovable. Moses gave this instruction 
when his hands became so heavy that Josue the son of Nun 
could scarcely hold them up. 50 Yet the people won a victory 
because, although the work they did was not important, it 
was full of meaning and courage, not done with a sense of 
wavering or unsteady purpose, but with the constancy of a 
well-grounded intention. The wise man stretches out his 
hands, the fool draws them in, as it is written: The fool 
foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh/ 51 for he 
thinks more of the body than of the spirit. Was it not a 
daughter of Juda who called to the Lord with outstretched 
hands: 'Thou knowest that they have borne false witness 
against me.' 52 She thought it was better not to sin and to fall 
into the snare of her accusers rather than to sin under the 
cloak of impunity. By despising death she preserved her 
innocence. And was it not the daughter of Jephte who by her 
own encouraging words confirmed her father's vow to 
immolate her? 53 

For contempt of death I do not draw on the books of the 
philosophers, or the ascetics of India, and the highly praised 
answer which Calanus gave Alexander when he told him to 

50 Cf. Exod. 17.12. 

51 Eccle. 4.5. 

52 Dan. 13,43. 

53 Cf. Judges 11.36-38. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 299 

follow him: c Of what kind of praise do I seem worthy, 
if you ask me to return to Greece and I can be com- 
pelled to do what I do not want to do? Your words are 
truly filled with authority, but my mind is more filled with 
liberty.' Then he wrote this letter. 

Calanus to Alexander: 54 'Friends who do not see our works 
in their visions are bidding you lay hands and force on the 
Indian philosophers. You will move their bodies from place 
to place, you will not force their souls to do what they do 
not wish any more than you will force rocks and trees to 
speak. A huge fire burns pain into living bodies and causes 
destruction; we are above this, we are consumed alive. There 
is no king or leader who can torture us to do what we have 
not planned. We are not like the philosophers of Greece who 
plan their pronouncements on events, looking to the fame of 
their opinion; we keep a relation between words and deeds. 
Events are swift; words are short-lived; our freedom is blessed 
in virtue.' 

Famous words, but mere words! Brilliant firmness of pur- 
pose, but from a man! A brilliant letter, but from a 
philosopher! Among us, even maidens climb the steps of 
virtue mounting to the very sky with their longing for death. 
What need to mention Thecla, Agnes, and Pelagia, who 
produced noble offspring, rushing to their death as if to 
immortality? Amid lions the maidens frolicked and fearlessly 
gazed on roaring beasts. Let us compare our examples with 
those ascetics of India : blessed Lawrence proved by his deeds 
what he had boasted in words, that when he was being burned 
alive, surviving the flames, he said: 'Turn me and eat me.' 
Not unworthy of the daughter of Abraham was the struggle 
of the sons of the Machabees: 55 some chanted above the 
flames, others, while being burned alive, asked not to be 

54 See Plutarch, Alex. 

55 Cl 2 Mach. 7.5-41. 



300 SAINT AMBROSE 

spared, but they were so carried away that the persecutor 
was the more inflamed with anger. The wise man was free. 

What example is more sublime than blessed Pelagia, who, 
when she was overwhelmed by her persecutors, said before 
she went into their presence: 1 die willingly, no one will lay 
a hand on me, no one will harm my virginity with his 
shameless glance, I shall take with me my purity and my 
modesty unsullied. These robbers wiU have no reward for their 
brazenness. Pelagia will follow Christ, no one will take away 
her freedom, no one will see her freedom of faith taken away, 
nor her remarkable purity, the product of wisdom. That 
which is servile will remain here, bound for no use.' Great 
was the freedom of that pious maiden who, though she was 
hedged in by lines of persecutors with utmost danger to her 
purity and life, was in no way shaken. 

The man who is ruled by anger is also bound by the yoke 
of sin. The man who is easily stirred to wrath has dug up 
sin; 56 'whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.' 57 He is not free 
who is a slave to greed, for he cannot possess his own vessel. 
He is not free who, serving his own needs and pleasures, 
wavers on straying bypaths. He is not free who is warped by 
ambition, for he is a slave to another's power. But he is free 
who can say: 'All things are lawful to me, but not all things 
are expedient. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be 
brought under the power of anyone. Food for the belly, and 
the belly for food.' 58 He is free who says: 'Why is our liberty 
judged by the unbeliever's knowledge?' 

Liberty suits the wise, not the unwise, for one who wraps a 
stone in a hurling machine is like the man who gives honor 
to a fool. He hurts himself and brings more danger to himself 
as he throws the javelin. As the harm of a stone is increased 

56 Prov. 29.22 (Septuagint) , 

57 John 8.34. 

58 Ct. I Cor. 6.12,13, 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 301 

by the engine of war and is doubled by its fall, so, too, is the 
downfall of the fool in freedom more violent. The power of 
the fool must be curtailed, his liberty should not be increased, 
because slavery fits him. Thus, Proverbs added : 'Thorns grow 
in the hand of a drunkard, so slavery in the hand of a fool.' 59 
As the drunkard is hurt by his drinking, so is the fool by his 
deeds. The one plunges himself into sin by drinking,, the 
other convicts himself by his work and is dragged into slavery 
by his deeds. Paul saw himself dragged into bondage by the 
law of sin, 60 but in order to be freed he took refuge in the 
grace of freedom. 

Fools are not free; it is said to them: 'Be not like the 
horse and the mule, which have no understanding. Control 
with bridle and bit the jaws of those who come near thee. 
Many are the blows of the wicked.' 61 Many blows are 
necessary that their wickedness be controlled; training, not 
harshness, exacts this. Besides, He that spareth the rod hateth 
his son/ 62 since each one is punished more heavily for his 
sins. The weight of sin is heavy, the stripes for crimes are 
heavy; they weigh like a heavy burden; they leave scars upon 
the soul and make the wounds of the mind fester. 63 

Let us lay aside the heavy load of slavery, let us give up 
wantonness and pleasures which bind us with chains of desires 
and restrain us with their ties. Pleasures do not help the fool, 
and one who gives himself to pleasure from childhood will 
remain in slavery, so that, although alive, he is dead. There- 
fore, let wantonness be cut out, let pleasures be removed; if 
anyone has been wanton let him say farewell to the past. The 
pruned vine brings forth fruit, the half-pruned grows, the 
neglected grows wild. So it is written : like a man careless of 

59 Cf. Prov. 26.8,9. 

60 Cf. Rom. 7.23. 

61 Ps. 31.9,10. 

62 Prov. 13.24. 

63 Cf. Ps. 37.5,6. 



302 SAINT AMBROSE 

his field is the unwise man, like a man careless of his vineyard 
is the man bereft of reason; if you abandon it, it will be 
deserted. 564 Let us cultivate this body of ours, let us chastise 
it, let us reduce it to slavery, let us not underestimate it. 

Our limbs are means o! righteousness; they are also the 
means of sin. If they are raised, they are the means of justice 
so that sin does not rule them; but, if the body is dead to sin, 
blame will not reign over it, and our limbs will be free from 
sin. Let us not obey its desires, nor give our limbs to sin as 
the weapons of injustice. If you look at a woman to covet 
her, your limbs are the weapons of sin. If you speak to her in 
order to harass her, your tongue and your mouth are the 
weapons of sin. If you remove the boundary stones laid down 
by your ancestors, your limbs are the weapons of sin. If you 
run with hurried steps to shed the blood of innocent people, 
your limbs are the weapons of evil. 

On the contrary, if you see the needy and bring him home, 
your limbs are the weapons of justice. If you snatch up one 
who is being led to death, if you tear up the debtor's bond, 
your limbs are the weapons of justice. If you confess Christ 
(the lips of the wise are weapons of the intellect* 5 ) , your 
lips are weapons of justice. Whoever can say : 'I was an eye 
to the blind, a foot to the lame, the father of the poor,' 66 his 
limbs are limbs of justice. 

Let us who are free from sin, purchased, as it were, by 
the price of Christ's blood, let us not be subject to the slavery 
of men or of passion. Let us not be ashamed to confess our sin. 
See how free the man who could say : *I have not been afraid 
of a very great multitude, so that I would not confess my sin 
in the sight of all.' 67 One who confesses to the Lord is freed 

64 Prov. 24.30. 

65 Cf. Prov. 14.7. 

66 Job 29.15,16. 

67 Job 31.34. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 303 

from his slavery: 'The just is the accuser of himself in the 
beginning of his speech.' 68 He is not only free but just, for 
justice is in liberty, and liberty in confession, and as soon as 
one has confessed he is pardoned. To conclude: 'I said "I 
will confess my iniquity to the Lord," and thou didst forgive 
the guilt of my heart.' 69 The delay of absolution is in the 
confession, the remission of sin follows confession. He is 
wise who confesses, he is free whose sins are forgiven and he 
trails no clouds of sin. 

Farewell, and love us as you do, because I also love you. 



55. Ambrose to Simplicianus, greetings (c. 386) 

We seem to have become involved in a philosophic debate 
when, taking the text of the Apostle Paul's Epistle, we 
discussed the statement: 'every wise man is free.' Later, 
however, when I was reading the Epistle of Peter the Apostle, 
I noticed that every wise man is also rich. And he does not 
exclude the other sex, for he says that women do not have 
all their wealth in jewels, but in the good dispositions of the 
heart: 'Let not theirs be the outward adornment of braiding 
the hair, or of wearing gold, or of putting on robes; but let 
it be the inner life of the heart.' 1 

Those two, namely, the man of inner life and the rich 
man, require no use of riches for themselves. He has men- 
tioned very beautifully 'the inner life of the heart* because 
the whole man of wisdom is hidden, just as wisdom herself is 
unseen but understood. No one before Peter used such an 
expression in speaking of the man of inner life. The exterior 

68 Prov. 18.17. 

69 Ps. 31.5. 



1 1 Peter 3.3,4. 



304 SAINT AMBROSE 

man has many parts in him; the interior man is filled with 
wisdom, with favors, with beauty, 

'In the imperishableness of a quiet and gentle spirit,' he 
says, 'which is of great price in the sight of God/ 2 he is 
truly rich who can appear rich in the sight of God, under 
whose gaze the earth is a miniature and the universe itself 
small God alone knows the man of possessions, the one rich 
in immortality, the one storing up the fruit of virtues, not 
riches. What is so rich in God's sight as the peaceful and 
modest spirit which is never disturbed? Does not that man 
appear to be rich who has peace of soul, the tranquility of 
repose, so that he longs for nothing, is stirred by no storm of 
passion, tires not of the old, seeks the new, and always by 
desire becomes poor in the midst of the greatest riches? 

Truly that is a rich peace which surpasses all understand- 
ing, 3 A rich peace, a rich dignity, a rich faith: The faithful 
man has the whole world for his possession'; 4 it is a rich 
simplicity, for those are riches of a simplicity which nothing 
scatters, which entertain no despondent thought, or suspicious 
or fraudulent one, but pours itself out with pure affection. 

There is a rich excellence upon which one feeds if he has 
saved the heavenly riches of his inheritance. To use the 
older examples from Scripture, he says: 'Blessed is the man 
whom the Lord correcteth: refuse not therefore the chastising 
of God. In famine he shall deliver thee from death; and in 
battle, from the hand of the sword. He shall hide thee from 
the scourge of the tongue. Thou shalt not be afraid of wild 
beasts and thou shalt know that thy house will be in peace/ 5 
When you have subdued the body's sins and passions which 
war against the spirit, your habitation will be free from 

2 Ibid. 

3 Cf. Phil. 4.7. 

4 Prov. 17.6 (Septuagint) . 

5 Job 5.17,20-24. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 305 

trouble, your house will have no stumbling block, your seed 
will not be fruitless, your descendants will be like the smell of 
a plentiful field, 6 your place of burial will be a harvest. 
Indeed, when others realize that their fruits have failed, then 
will the heap of your ripe grain be brought to the heavenly 
storerooms. 

The righteous always gain rewards; the unjust go begging. 
The one gains righteousness; he gains God's command to 
the poor and needy. But the fool does not own even what he 
thinks he has. Does he possess riches, do you think, if he 
broods over his wealth day and night and is tormented by a 
wretched miser's worries? He is actually in need; although 
he appears wealthy in the opinion of others, he is poor in his 
own. He makes no use of what he has, but, while grasping 
one thing, he longs for another. What enjoyment of riches is 
there when there is no limit to one's longing? No one is rich 
if he cannot take from this life what he has, because what is 
left here is not ours but another's. 

Henoch was rich, for he took away with him what he had 
and carried all his wealth of blessing in heavenly vessels, 7 and 
'He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his heart/ 8 
Elias was rich, for he drove aloft to the heavenly abodes 
carrying the treasury of his virtues in a fiery chariot. 9 Even 
he has left no small wealth to his heir, while he himself lost 
none of it. Would anyone call him a pauper either then or 
when he was sent to the widow to be fed by her, when he 
himself needed food for his daily sustenance? When at his 
prayer heaven was opened and shut? When at his word the 
pot of meal and cruet of oil did not fail for three years, but 
abounded, for it was not diminished but replenished by use? 10 

6 Cf. Gen. 27.27. 

7 Cf. Gen. 5.21-24. 

8 Wisd. 4.11. 

9 Cf. 4 Kings 2.11. 
10 Cf. 3 Kings 17.9-16. 



306 SAINT AMBROSE 

Would anyone call him poor at whose wish fire came down 
[from heaven]/ 1 and rivers which he approached did not 
close in on him, 12 but went back to their source, letting the 
Prophet cross with dry feet? 

An ancient story tells of the two neighbors, 13 King Achab 
and a poor man Naboth. Which of these do we consider the 
poorer, which the richer: the one who had been endowed 
with a king's measure of wealth, insatiable and unsatisfied 
with his wealth, who longed for the little vineyard of the poor 
man; or the other, heartily despising a 'king's fortune of 
much gold 3 and imperial wealth, who was satisfied with his 
vineyard? Does he not seem richer and more a king, since he 
had enough for himself and regulated his desires so that he 
wanted nothing which belonged to others? But was he not 
very poor whose gold was of no account, while he considered 
the other's vines of priceless value? Understand why he was 
so very poor: because riches amassed unjustly are disgorged, 14 
but the root of the righteous remains, 1 * and flourishes like a 
palm tree. 16 

Is he not more in need than the poor man who passes 
away like a shadow? 17 The wicked man is praised today; 
tomorrow he will not exist nor will any trace of him be 
found. 18 What does being rich mean except 'spreading out,' 
'overflowing'? Is he rich who is depressed in soul? Is not one 
so depressed held in confinement? In confinement what over- 
flowing is possible? He is not rich who does not overflow. So 
David very aptly says: 'The powerful have become poor and 

11 Ct 4 Kings 1.14. 

12 Cf. 4 Kings 2.8. 

13 Cf. 3 Kings 21.1-16. 

14 C. Job 20.15. 

15 Cf. Prov. 12.12. 

16 Cf. Ps. 91.13. 

17 Cf. Ps. 143.4. 

18 Cf. Ps. 36.35,36. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 307 

have huitgered,' 19 because, when men have the treasures of 
the heavenly Scriptures and do not have understanding, they 
become poor, they become hungry. 

There is nothing richer than the wise man's condition, 
nothing poorer than the fool's. Since the kingdom of God 
belongs to the poor, 20 what can be richer than that? And the 
Apostle, too, says brilliantly: 'Oh, the depths of the riches of 
the wisdom and of the knowledge of God.' 21 Brilliantly, too, 
David rejoiced in the way of divine precepts as if he were 
amid all riches. 22 In definite terms, too, does Moses rejoice 
who says: 'Nephthali will be among those who receive 
abundance.' 23 Nephthali is interpreted in Latin as 'abundance' 
or 'diffusion.' Therefore, where there is abundance, there is a 
sufficiency; where there is the hunger of desire, there is 
unfulfilled longing; there, in fact, is poverty. Then, because 
there is scarcely a desire for money or things of this world 
which reaches satisfaction, he adds : 'And he will be filled with 
blessing.' 24 

In these terms the Apostle Peter showed that women's 
ornament consists not in gold and silver and garments, but in 
the inner and hidden life of the heart. 25 Let no woman, 
therefore, lay aside the garb of piety, the adornment of grace, 
the inheritance of everlasting life. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 

19 Ps. 33.11. 

20 Cf. Matt. 5.3. 

21 Rom. 11.33. 

22 Cf. Ps. 118.14. 

23 Deut. 33.23. 

24 Ibid. 

25 1 Peter 3.3,4. 



308 SAINT AMBROSE 

56. Ambrose to Simplicianus, greetings 1 

You tell me that you were perplexed over the meaning 
when you read that Moses, after offering sacrifice and 
immolating sacred victims to the Lord, put half of the blood 
into bowls and sprinkled the rest on the altar. 2 But what 
causes you to be perplexed and ask my help, when you have 
traveled the whole world to acquire faith and divine knowl- 
edge, and in constant reading day and night have spent the 
whole span of your life? With remarkably brilliant intellect 
you have embraced all objects of the understanding, so that 
you are able to show how the works of the philosophers have 
deviated from the truth, several being so futile that the words 
in their writings have perished in their lifetime. 

Yet, because it is of great profit to exchange talk, as it is to 
exchange money, whereby great progress is made in furthering 
the common good of trade, I cannot refrain from saying how 
wonderful is the division of blood of which you speak. Part 
seems to signify the moral training, part the mystical training 
of wisdom. The part put into vessels is moral, that sprinkled 
upon the altar is mystical, because it is granted, by the favor 
and inspiration of heaven, that human minds conceive fitting 
ideas of God, ideas filled with faith. 

Moreover, those who have spoken of His majesty and of 
heavenly matters, whether Apostles or holy Prophets, dared 
not utter anything unless it had been shown them by revela- 
tion. Hence, Paul bears witness in his Epistle that he was 
caught up to heaven and heard words which it is not lawful 
for man to utter. 3 Stephen also saw the heavens open and 
Jesus standing on the right hand of God; 4 and David the 

1 Undated. 

2 Cf. Exod. 24.6. 

3 Cf. 2 Cor. 12.4. 

4 Cf. Acts 7.55. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 309 

Prophet saw Him sitting. 5 What shall I say of Moses, of whom 
Scripture says that there has risen no greater Prophet in Israel, 
who saw the Lord face to face, in the many signs and 
prodigies which He performed in the land of Egypt? 6 

The mystical portion is offered to God, and by the bright- 
ness of divine Wisdom, whose Father and Parent He is, He 
quickens the vigor of the soul and illumines the mind. But 
the Wisdom of God is Christ, whose breast John reclined 
upon, 7 that from the secret source of Wisdom he may be 
said to have imbibed divine mysteries. John, who knew the 
gift [he had received], recorded this incident for he feared to 
claim for himself and to attribute to his own genius what he 
had received. Even the Lord Himself said to the Apostles, 
opening His mouth: 'Receive the Holy Spirit,' 8 declaring 
that He was the one who had said to Moses: e l will open 
your mouth, and I will teach you what you are to speak.' 9 
Thus does Wisdom divine, ineffable, untainted, incorruptible, 
pour her grace into the souls of the saints and reveal to them 
knowledge that they may behold her glory. 

But training in moral wisdom is that which is put into 
bowls and taken therefrom and drunk. The bowls are the 
organs of the senses. The bowls are the two eyes, the ears, the 
nostrils, the mouth, and other parts suited to their function. 
For the eyes receive and minister to sight, the ears to hearing, 
nostrils to smell, mouths to taste, and so forth. The Word, 
who is the source of the priesthood and of prophecy, pours 
into these bowls part of His Blood that He may quicken and 
animate the irrational parts of our nature and make them 
rational. 

Finally, when he [Moses] had numbered the command- 

5 Cf. Ps. 109.1. 

6 Cf. Deut. 34.10,11. 

7 Cf. John 13.25. 

8 John 20.22. 

9 Exod. 4.12. 



310 SAINT AMBROSE 

ments of the Law and had proclaimed them to the people, 
leaving to a later time his explanation of the meaning of the 
mystical Ark of the Testament, of the candlestick, and of the 
censer, he offered victims and poured a libation, sprinkling 
part of the blood on the sacred altars and putting part into 
bowls. 

A division is made between a mystical, that is, divine 
wisdom, and moral wisdom. The Logos is the divider of souls 
and of virtues; but the Logos, the Word of God, is powerful 
and quick, for it pierces and penetrates even the division of 
the soul, and it discerns and divides virtues. Therefore, His 
servant Moses, by the division of blood, distinguished the 
kinds of virtues. 

And because nothing is announced more emphatically in 
the Law than is Christ's coming and nothing prefigured more 
clearly than His passion, consider whether that is not the 
saving victim which God the Word offered in Himself and 
which He immolated in His own body. For, in the Gospel 
and in the Law, He first taught us moral instruction, and 
in His suffering and in His every act and deed, as though 
putting our senses and habits into bowls, pouring, as it 
were, the very substance and marrow of wisdom, He en- 
livened the minds of men to become a seed bed of virtues, 
the regulator of piety. Then, drawing near the altar, He 
poured out the Blood of His own victim. 

If you choose to understand these incidents this way, the 
sense is pious; or, if you wish, Solomon's interpretation is 
equally agreeable; namely, that the Prophet Moses poured 
the blood into bowls, which you may understand to be the 
same blood of which it has been written that wisdom has 
mingled her wine in a bowl, 10 bidding men leave foolishness 
and seek wisdom. From the bowl we drink wisdom, instruc- 
tion, knowledge, correction, amendment of life, control of 

10 Cf. Prov. 9,2. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 311 

habits and thoughts, grace of devotion, increase of virtue, a 
fount of abundance. 

You may also understand by the sprinkling of the blood 
upon the altar the cleansing of the world, the forgiveness of 
all sins. For, as a victim, He sprinkled that blood upon the 
altar to take away the sins of many. The lamb is a victim, 
but not a rational creature, although it has divine power, for 
it was said: 'Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes 
away the sins of the world. 511 For He has not only cleansed 
the sin& of all with His Blood, but also bestowed a divine 
power. Does it not seem to you that He poured out His 
Blood, since water and blood from His side flowed over the 
altar of His passion? 12 

Farewell, and love us, as you do, with the affection of a 
father. 



57. Ambrose to Simplicianus, greetings 1 

The reading which disturbs you ought to serve as proof 
of each man's greatness in his own task, for, although no 
one saw God more intimately than did Moses, 2 and no 
greater Prophet arose in Israel, seeing God face to face, as 
did Moses, 3 though he was with God continually for forty 
days and nights when receiving the Law on the mountain/ 
he, I say, to whom God gave the words which he was to 
speak, 5 he is found to have approved his brother Aaron's 
counsel more than his own. Was ever any one of mankind 

11 John 139. 

12 Cf. John 19.34. 

1 Uhdated. 

2 Cf. Num. 12.8. 

3 Cf. Deut. 34.10. 

4 Cf. Exod. 34.28. 

5 Cf. Exod. 4.12. 



312 SAINT AMBROSE 

wiser and more learned than Moses? Yet we read that Aaron 
and Miriam sinned later [by chiding Moses for his] Ethiopian 

wife. 6 

But distinguish carefully this very thing: at what time 
Moses rendered a decision with wisdom and when Aaron did 
so with counsel. Moses was the great Prophet who said of 
Christ: 'Him thou shalt hear like unto me.' 7 And of him the 
Lord Himself said: c lf they do not hearken to Moses and the 
Prophets, they will not believe even if someone goes to 
them from the dead.' 8 Therefore, in the matter of prophecy, 
Moses ranks first as a Prophet, but, in the concern and duty 
and task of the priesthood, Aaron ranks first as a priest. Let 
us, then, discuss this point. 

A buck-goat had been immolated for sin and offered as a 
holocaust. Moses later went in search of it, but it had been 
burned. 'And Moses was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar 
the sons of Aaron that were left, and he spoke saying: "Why 
did you not eat the sacrifice for sin in the holy place? For 
these are the holy of holies; this I gave you to eat, that you 
may take away the sin of the synagogue, and you ought to 
have eaten it within, as was commanded me." When Aaron 
saw that he was angry, he answered calmly: "If this day 
hath been offered the victim for sin, the holocaust before the 
Lord: and to me such things have happened, shall I eat 
what was offered for sin today? Or shall it please the Lord?" 
And Moses heard and it pleased him. 59 Let us consider what 
these things signify. 

Only God does not sin. The wise man mends his way and 
corrects the man who is astray and does penance for sin. 
Yet, this is difficult in the life of men. For, what is so rare as 



6 Cf. Num. 12.1. 

7 Deut. 18.15. 

8 Luke 16.31. 

9 Lev. 10.16-20. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 313 

to find a man who convicts himself of sin and condemns his 
action? Rare, then, is the confession of sin, rare is penance, 
rare is a man's declaration of servitude. Nature rebels, 
shame rebels; nature does so because all are under sin, and 
he who is clothed in flesh is prone to evil. Therefore, nature 
rebels against the flesh, and the world's attraction fights 
against innocence and purity. Shame, too, rebels, for each 
one is ashamed to admit his own fault while he thinks of the 
present more than the future. 

Moses was desirous of finding a soul free from sin that it 
might put off the covering of error and depart free from 
blame without any disgrace to himself. But he did not find 
such a soul; quickly, the force of unreason came into play 
and a sort of flame of impetuosity fed on the soul and 
consumed its innocence. Present considerations outweigh those 
4hat are to come, the violent the moderate, the many the 
better, the joyous the serious, the soft the harsh, the glad the 
sad, those full of charm those more unbending, and the 
speedy the slower ones. Swift is iniquity which heaps up 
opportunities for harm, because 'swift are his. feet to shed 
blood.' 10 But every virtue is gentle and she delays a long time 
before she judges and studies what things are to come. So 
the mind of the good man is a watcher of his counsels, and 
examines beforehand what is comely and fair, but iniquity 
with labor sets herself before wisdom. Penance is sluggish 
and shameful, for it is overwhelmed and checked by regard 
for those present. It is intent on future things only, wherein 
hope is late, where enjoyment is slow, and slow, too, the 
search. 

Amid these endeavors of hope and virtue shamelessness 
comes running, and, because of the type of persons present, 
penance is neglected, love for penance is destroyed, and 
introspection is at an end. The Law seeks and does not find 

10 PS. 13.3. 



314 SAINT AMBROSE 

her, for she has been consumed by the heat and smoke of 
iniquity, and hatred of the Law is aroused. Moses says that 
penance should have been consumed in the holy of holies; 
he upbraids the priests for being sluggish. Aaron replies that 
the priestly judgments should be far-seeing, and this task is 
not easily assigned to a weak conscience. Let us not have 
this error worse than the first, for, by a foul-smelling vase, 
oil and wine are easily corrupted and deteriorated. 

How could the sin be burned out when the fire was 
dangerous, and this in the sight of the Lord to whom even 
secrets are known? Can he please the Lord if, while he is 
still involved in iniquities and while he keeps injustice 
enclosed in his heart, he says that he is doing penance? In 
the same way, when a sick man pretends to be well he will 
grow more ill, because pretending good health is of no avail 
when he is falsified in his words and is not supported by any 
helping strength. 

A dangerous fire is lust; a dangerous fire is every flame of 
unjust desire; a dangerous fire is all the heat of greed. With 
this fire no one is purified, he is burned. If one presents 
himself in the sight of the Lord, where there is that dangerous 
fire, fire from heaven then consumes him, as fire from heaven 
burned Abiad and Nadah along with offerings made at the 
sacred altars for sin. Let one who wishes to purify his sin 
remove from himself the dangerous fire. Let him offer himself 
only to that fire which consumes a fault, not a man. 

Listen to one saying what that fire is, for 'Jesus baptizes 
with the Holy Spirit and with fire.' 11 This is the fire which 
dried up the blood of the woman suffering a hemorrhage for 
twelve years. 12 This fire forgave the sin of Zaccheus, who 
said that he gave half of his goods to the poor and, if he 

11 Matt. 3.1L 

12 Cf. Matt. 9.20. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 315 

defrauded anyone, he restored it fourfold. 13 This is the fire 
which removed the thief's sin, for it is a consuming fire which 
said to him: 'This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.' 14 
Thus did He heal those in whom He found a simple and pure 
confession, not evil and not deceit. 

In fine, Judas could not reach the remedy, although he 
said: 'I have sinned in betraying innocent blood/ 15 for he 
wrapped a dangerous fire in his heart and this drove him in 
his madness to the noose. He was unworthy of a remedy 
because he did not groan, being converted in the inmost 
part of his heart, nor did he eagerly practice penance. The 
Lord Jesus is so loving that He would have given him pardon 
had he awaited Christ's mercy. 

This fault, therefore, priests do not remove; nor do they 
remove the sin of one who presents himself in deceit and 
still is desirous of sinning, for they cannot feast on food which 
is full of cunning and gnaws within. The food of a priest is 
in the remission of sins. Therefore, the Prince of priests, 
Christ, says: 'My food is to do the will of my Father who is 
in heaven.' 16 What is the will of God but this: 'When you 
turn and groan, then shall you be saved.' 17 But in deceit- 
fulness there is no food. Finally, he who has not a sincere 
and pure conscience cannot partake of the sweetness of 
feasting. The bitterness of deceit conceals the sweetness of 
feasting. Nor does an evil conscience make it possible for 
penance to refresh and nourish a wicked soul. 

Such affection, such seeking, such penance, therefore, are 
of no use, no joy to priests. And rightfully was that goat 
burned, not being sacrificed for sin in a holocaust, since the 

13 Cf. Luke 19.8, 

14 Luke 23.43. 

15 Matt. 27.4. 

16 John 30.15. 

17 Isa. 30.15. 



316 SAINT AMBROSE 

victim was not sincere, 18 for in its sacrifice was discovered a 
dangerous fire. Hence, it is not a pleasing or acceptable 
sacrifice to God, for it is not acceptable unless it has been 
proved amid the riches of sincerity and truth. 

Thus, elsewhere you read of two goats, one in whom is the 
lot of the Lord, in the other the emissary [goat] ; the one in 
which there is the lot of the Lord to be offered and immolated 
for sin, the one in whom is the lot of the emissary [goat] to 
be let go into the desert, that it may receive the iniquities of 
the people and of every sinner. 19 For, as there are two in the 
field, but one shall be taken and the other shall be left, 20 so 
are there two goats: one for sacrifice, the other to be allowed 
to go into the desert. This last is of no use; he is neither to 
be eaten nor feasted upon by the sons of the priests. Just as, 
of those things that are used as food, the good part is eaten 
and the useless or bad is cast out, so do we consider good 
works as feasts because they are food. 

The Lord will not be pleased if a priest consumes a 
sacrifice in which there is a deceitful offering, and not the 
sincerity of a careful confession. Indeed, that goat must be 
allowed to go into the desert where our fathers wandered, 
wherein they wandered and could not reach the land of the 
resurrection, and where their memory perished from the earth. 
Now, understand the works which are feasts: 'Your foods 
shall be sabbaths to the lands.' 21 Feasts and banquets are that 
rest in God which brings about the tranquility of the soul. So 
let us rest also in our discourse. 

Farewell, and love us as you do, for we love you. 

18 Cf, Lev. 16.27. 

19 Cf. Lev. 16.8-10. 

20 Cf. Matt. 24.40. 

21 Lev. 25.4. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 317 

58. Ambrose to his clergy 1 

Men's minds are frequently tempted to abandon their duty 
when they take offense lightly at things which do not fit in 
with their personal desires. I can tolerate this state in other 
classes of men, but it causes me great sorrow when it is found 
in those who are dedicated to the service of God. 

In the ranks of the clergy there are some aggrieved in this 
way, into whom the Devil, being unable to find entrance 
otherwise, wishes to make his way and instill thoughts of this 
sort: 'What advantage is there for me to remain among the 
clergy, bear injuries, and endure hardships, as if my farm 
could not support me, or, lacking that, as if I could not get 
support some other way?' By thoughts like these [men of] 
good dispositions fail their duty, as though the only require- 
ment for a cleric were to provide for his support, and not 
rather to win for himself the help of God after death. Yet, 
only that man will be rich after death who on earth has been 
able to contend unharmed against the wiles of his numerous 
enemies. 

Therefore, Ecclesiastes says: 'It is best that there be two 
rather than one: for there is good advantage for their 
labor, since if one fall he shall lift up his companion.' 2 
Where are two better than one, if not where Christ is, and 
he whom Christ guards? When a man falls who is with the 
Lord Jesus, Jesus raises him up. 

Why did he say: Tor their labor'? Is Christ laboring? Yes, 
truly, for He says: 'I have labored calling.' 3 He labors, but 
He labors on us. Moreover, being weary, He sat at a well. 4 
His mode of labor the Apostle has taught us by his own more 

1 An undated letter to certain clergy of Milan who were discouraged 
over work and difficulties in the ministry. 

2 Eccle. 4.9,10. 

3 Ps. 68.4. 

4 Cf. John 4.6. 



318 SAINT AMBROSE 

lowly example: 'Who is weak, and I am not weak?' 5 And the 
Lord Himself taught us in the words : 4 I was sick and you did 
not visit me: naked, and you did not clothe me.' 6 He labors 
to raise me when I fall. 

Hence, in Eliseus the Lord is prefigured, for the Prophet 
threw himself upon the dead child to raise him up; 7 in this 
is the belief that Christ died with us so as to rise with us. 
Christ so placed Himself on a level with our weakness that 
He raised us up. He threw Himself down, He did not fall, 
and He raised His comrade. For He Himself made us His 
comrades, as it is written: 'He was anointed with the oil of 
gladness above his fellows.' 8 

Fittingly does Ecclesiastes say : Tor if one falls he raises up 
his companion.' 9 He himself is not raised up, for Christ was 
not raised up by another's help and power, but He Himself 
raised Himself. Indeed, He said: 'Destroy this temple, and 
in three days I will raise it up. This he said of the temple of 
his body.' 10 It is well that He who did not fall should not be 
raised by another, for one who is raised by another has 
fallen, and one who falls needs help to be raised up. 
Additional words also teach this when Scripture says: 'Woe 
to him that is alone: for when he falleth, he hath none to 
lift him up. And if two lie together, they shall warm one 
another.' 11 We have died with Christ and we live together 
with Him. 12 Christ died with us to warm us, and He said: 
'I have come to cast fire upon the earth.' 13 

I was dead, but by dying with Christ in baptism I have 
received the light of life from Christ. One who dies in Christ, 

5 2 Cor. 11.29. 

6 Matt. 25.43. 

7 Cf. 4 Kings 4.34, 

8 Ps. 44. 8, 

9 Eccle. 4.10. 

10 John 2.19,21. 

11 ccle. 4.10,11. 

12 Cf. Rom. 6.8. 

13 Luke 12.48. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 319 

being warmed by Christ, receives the breath of life and of the 
resurrection. The child was cold* Eliseus warmed him with 
his breath; he gave him the warmth of life. 14 He lay with 
him so that, being buried with him in figure, the warmth of 
his repose might wake him up. He is cold who does not die in 
Christ, nor can he be warmed unless a glowing fire is applied 
to him; neither can he give warmth to another if he has not 
Christ with him. 

For your understanding that this was said of the mystery, 
not of the number that 'two are better than one,' he adds 
mystically: C A threefold cord it not easily broken.' 15 Threes 
which are not compounded are not broken. The Trinity 
of an uncompounded nature cannot be broken, because God 
is whatever is one and simple and not compounded, which 
continues to be what it is, and is not destroyed. 

It is good to cling to one another and to wear the other's 
chain upon your neck, to lower your shoulders and carry 
him, and not to grow weary of his bonds, because he went 
from the house of bondsman to be king, that boy who is 
greater than an old and foolish king. 16 They who follow him 
are bound in chains; Paul [was] a prisoner of Jesus Christ; 17 
and Jesus Himself led captivity captive. 18 He [Paul] thought 
it not enough to destroy the captivity which the Devil had 
imposed, so that he could not again attack those freely 
walking about, but he considered it perfect freedom to live 
subject to Christ, and to put his feet in the shackles of wisdom, 
to be His captive, so that you may be free of His adversary. 19 

Rightly is He called a child, Tor a Child is born to us,' 20 
and truly is He a good Son, to whom it was said by God the 

14 4 Kings 4.34. 

15 Eccle. 4.12. 

16 Cf. Eccle. 4.13. 

17 Cf. Eph. 3.1. 

18 Cf. Eph. 4.8. 

19 This entire paragraph is omitted in the Benedictine edition* 

20 Isa. 9.6. 



320 SAINT AMBROSE 

Father: c lt is good for You to be called My Son.' 21 He is 
also wise as the Gospel teaches: 6 He advanced in age and 
wisdom.' 22 Likewise, He is poor: 'Being rich, He became 
poor, that by His poverty He might make us rich.' 23 In His 
kingdom, therefore, He does not despise the poor man, but 
listens to him and frees him from his difficulties and troubles. 

Let us live as His subjects so that the old foolish king 24 
will have no power over us, for, while he wishes to reign as 
the lord of his own will and be not in the bonds of the Lord 
Jesus, being confirmed in sin, he falls into ugly foolishness. 
What is more foolish than to abandon things of heaven and 
become engaged in earthly ones, not to esteem those that 
endure and to choose those which are perishable and frail? 

No one should say: Our portion is not in Jacob, nor our 
inheritance in Israel, 25 nor say: I am not in the lots, for it is 
written: 'Give to Levi his lots.' 26 Later, David said that one 
who rests among the lots flies aloft on wings of the spirit. 27 
Do not say of your God: 'He is grievous to me,' 28 nor of 
your position: e lt is useless to me,' for it is written: 'Leav$ 
not thy place.' 29 The Devil wishes to take it from you, he 
wishes to carry you away, for he is jealous of your hope and 
jealous of your task. 

But you who are in the lot of the Lord, His portion and 
possession, do not let go the Lord, so that you may say to 
Him: 'You have possessed my reins, you have received me 
from my mother's womb,' 30 and He will say to you as a good 
servant: 'Come and recline at table.' 31 

Farewell, sons, and serve the Lord because the Lord is good. 

21 Isa. 49.6 (Septuagint) . 

22 Luke 2.52. 

23 2 Cor. 8.9. 

24 CL Eccle. 4.13. 

25 Cf. 3 Kings 12.16. 

26 Deut. 33.8 (Septuagint) . 

27 Cf. Ps. 67.14. 

28 Wisd. 2.15. 

29 Eccle. 10.4. 

30 Ps. 138.13. 

31 Luke 17.7. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 321 

59. Ambrose, servant of Christ^ called bishop, to the Church 

at Vercelli and those who invoke the name of 

our Lord Jesus Christ. May grace be in you from 

God the Father and His only-begotten Son in the 

Holy Spirit (396) 1 

I am in sorrow that the Church of the Lord among you is 
still without a bishop and now alone of all the districts of 
Liguria and Aemelia and Venetia and other territories of 
Italy needs that service which other churches used to beg for 
themselves from her. What is more shameful your con- 
tention, which causes the difficulty, is laid to my charge. Since 
dissensions exist among you, how can we make any decision, 
how can you make a choice, how can anyone agree to accept 
among dissenters the task which he could hardly endure 
among those who are united? 

Is this the training of a confessor, is this the line of those 
upright fathers who, although they did not know blessed 
Eusebius 2 before, setting aside their fellow citizens, approved 
him as soon as they saw him? And so much more did they 
approve him when they observed him. Rightfully did he 
come forth, the man whom the entire Church elected; 
rightfully was it believed that he, whom all had demanded, 
was elected by God's judgment. You, then, should follow the 
example of your parents, especially since you have been much 
better instructed by a saintly confessor than were your fathers 
inasmuch as a better teacher has instructed and trained you, 

1 Written when the Church at Vercelli was unable to agree on a 
successor for their Bishop Limenius, who had died. As metropolitan 
bishop, Ambrose wrote what is the longest letter in his correspondence 
as well as bearing the latest exact date. However, it was without effect, 
and Ambrose eventually went in person to help choose the new bishop, 
Honoratus. The entire letter forms a treatise on the election of bishops 
and the duties of pastors and electors. 

2 Ambrose praises those people of Vercelli who formerly accepted Euse- 
bius as the choice of God Himself. 



322 SAINT AMBROSE 

and you must give evidence of your moderation and accord 
by agreeing in your request for a bishop. 

We have our Lord's saying that 'when two agree upon 
anything on earth it will be done for them concerning what- 
ever they ask, 5 as He says, 'by my Father who is in heaven, 
for where two or three are gathered together in my name, 
there am I in the midst of them.' 3 How much more true is it 
that when the full congregation is gathered in the name of the 
Lord, and when the demand of all is one in accord, we may 
not in any way doubt that the Lord Jesus will there be the 
judge the source of their will, the presiding officer of the 
ordination, the giver of grace ! 

Therefore, make yourselves appear worthy of having Christ 
in your midst. Wfiere there is peace, there is Christ, for 
Christ is our peace. 4 Where there is justice, there is Christ, 
for Christ is justice. 5 Let Him be in the midst of you, that 
you may see Him and that it may not be said of you, also : 'But 
in the midst of you there stands one whom you do not see.' 6 
The Jews did not see Him in whom they did not believe; we 
behold Him with devotion; we gaze on Him with faith. 

Let Him stand in the midst of you so that there may be 
opened for you the heavens which tell the glory of God, 7 
that you may do His will and work His work. The heavens 
are opened to him who sees Jesus as they were opened to 
Stephen, who said: 'Behold I see the heavens opened and 
Jesus standing at the right hand of God.' 8 Jesus stood as a 
helpmate; He stood as if anxious to help Stephen, His 
athlete, in the struggle; He stood as though ready to crown 
His martyr. 

3 Matt. 18.20. 

4 Cf. Eph. 2.14. 

5 Cf. 1 Cor. 1.30. 

6 John 1.26. 

7 Ps. 18.2. 

8 Acts 7.56. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 323 

Let Him then stand for you that you may not fear Him 
sitting, for He sits when He judges, as Daniel says : 'Thrones 
were placed and the books were opened and the Ancient of 
days sat/ 9 But in Psalm 81 it is written: 'God rises in the 
divine assembly., in the midst of the gods he gives judgment.' 10 
He sits to judge, He stands to give judgment, and He judges 
the imperfect, but gives judgment among the gods. Let Him 
like a good Shepherd stand as your defender, so that dreadful 
wolves may not attack you. 

Not without reason do I advise you up to this point, 
because I hear that those foolish men, Sarmation and 
Barbatianus, have come to you, saying that there is no merit 
in fasting, no grace in frugality, and none in virginity; that 
all persons are of equal value, and that they are mad who 
chastise their body by fasting in order to make it subject to 
the spirit. If he had thought it madness, Paul would never 
have done so nor written to instruct others, but he glories in 
it, saying: 'I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, 
lest preaching to others, I myself should be found a cast- 
away.' 11 Thus, those who do not chastise their body and yet 
wish to preach to others are themselves considered castaways. 

How reprobate is that which prompts wantonness, bribery, 
and lewdness, namely, the incitement to lust, the enticement 
to sinful pleasure, the fuel of incontinency, the fire of greed ! 
What new school has sent out those Epicureans? They who 
preach pleasure, urge delights, and think that purity is of no 
benefit are not followers of philosophy, as they assert, but 
ignorant men. They were with us, but they were not of us, 12 
for we are not ashamed to say what John the Evangelist says. 
When they were first stationed here they fasted, they stayed 

9 Dan. 7.9. 

10 Ps. 81.1. 

11 1 Cor. 9.27. 

12 Cf. 1 John 2.19. 



324 SAINT AMBROSE 

within the monastery; there was no room for wantonness and 
the chance to dispute in mockery was not allowed them. 

But these dissolute men could not stand this. They went 
off, and when they wished to return they were not admitted, 
for I had heard several things which put me on my guard. I 
warned them, but accomplished nothing. In anger, therefore, 
they began scattering such seeds as made them the wretched 
instigators of all vices. So they have lost the benefit of having 
fasted, they have lost the benefit of having been self-controlled 
for a while. Now with a devilish purpose they envy the good 
deeds of others, since they themselves miss their enjoyment. 

What maiden does not groan upon hearing that virginity 
has no reward? Far be it from her to believe this easily, or 
lay aside her efforts, or change her heart's intention. What 
widow, finding that there is no profit in her widowhood, 
would prefer to keep faith in her husband and spend her 
life in sadness rather than to enter upon a happier life? What 
woman bound by marriage ties, when she hears that there is 
no honor in chastity, will not needlessly be subject to temp- 
tation through levity of body or of soul? Therefore, the 
Church each day proclaims the praise of chastity and the 
glory of purity in the sacred lessons and in the sermons of 
her bishops. 

In vain, then, did the Apostle say: C I wrote to you in the 
letter not to associate with the immoral.' 13 And that they 
might not say, perhaps: e We are not speaking of all the 
immoral persons of the world, but we say that one who has 
been baptized in Christ ought no longer be considered 
immoral, but be what it may, his life has become acceptable 
to God,' the Apostle added: 'Not meaning, of course, the 
immoral of this world'; and below: 6 If a brother is called 
immoral, or covetous, or an idolator, or evil-tongued, or a 
drunkard, or greedy, with such a one not even to take food. 

13 1 Cor. 4.9. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 325 

For what have I to do with judging those outside?' 14 And 
to the Ephesians he said : 'But immorality and every unclean- 
ness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as 
becomes saints. 3 And immediately he adds below: Tor know 
this, that no shameless, or unclean person, or covetous one 
(for that is idolatry) has any inheritance in the kingdom 
of Christ and God.' 15 Certainly it is clear that he spoke of 
the baptized, for they receive the inheritance who are baptized 
in Christ's death and buried with Him so that they may rise 
with Him. 16 Indeed, they are heirs of God, joint-heirs of 
Christ, heirs of God because the grace of God is bestowed on 
them, joint-heirs of Christ because they are reborn to His life, 
heirs also of Christ because through His death the inheritance, 
like that of a testator, is given to them. 

Wherefore, they who have what they may lose ought to be 
more solicitous for their needs than those who have not. They 
ought to act with greater care, to avoid the allurement of 
vices, the incitement to wrong, which arise chiefly from food 
and drink, for 'The people sat down to eat, and drink, ancl 
they rose up to play.' 17 

Moreover, the famous Epicurus, whom these persons think 
they should follow rather than the Apostles, that advocate of 
pleasure, although he denies that pleasure brings on evil, 
does not deny that certain things follow from it and from 
these spring evils; and he says also that the life of luxurious 
persons, which is filled with pleasure, does not seem blame- 
worthy unless it is troubled by the fear of pain or death. 
But how much a stranger he is to the truth is seen from the 
fact that he says that pleasure was originally created in man- 
kind by God, just as his follower Philomarus 18 argues in his 

14 1 Cor. 5.11,12. 

15 Eph. 5.3,5. 

16 Cf. Rom. 6.3. 

17 Exod. 32.6. 

18 This is probably the philosopher Philodemus (c. 110-c. 40/35 B.C.) . 



326 SAINT AMBROSE 

Epitome, claiming that the Stoics are the originators of this 
opinion. 

But holy Scripture refutes this, for it teaches us that 
pleasure was suggested to Adam and Eve by the crafty entice- 
ments of the serpent. 19 If the serpent itself is pleasure, then 
the passions of pleasure are changeable and slippery, and are 
infected, as it were, with the poison of corruption. It is 
certain, then, that Adam, deceived by the desire of pleasure, 
fell away from the command of God and from the enjoyment 
of grace. How, then, can pleasure call us back to paradise, 
when by itself it deprived us of paradise? 

Therefore, the Lord Jesus, wishing to make us strong 
against the temptations of the Devil, fasted when He was 
about to struggle with him, so that we might know that we 
cannot otherwise overcome the enticement of evil. Further, 
the Devil himself hurled the first shaft of his temptations 
regarding pleasure, saying: e lf thou art the Son of God, 
command that these stones become loaves of bread.' Then the 
Lord said: 'Not by bread alone does man live, but by every 
word of God/ 20 and He would not [change stones to bread] 
although He could, but He taught us by a salutary precept 
to attend to the pursuit of our reading rather than to pleasure. 
Since they say we ought not to fast, let them show us why 
Christ fasted if not to make His fast an example for us. Then, 
in the words which He spoke later, He taught us that evil 
cannot easily be conquered except by our fasting, saying: 
'This kind of devil is only cast out by prayer and fasting.' 21 

And what is the purpose of Scripture in teaching us that 
Peter fasted and that the mystery regarding the baptism of 
the Gentiles was revealed to him when he was fasting and 
praying, 22 if not to show that the saints themselves, when 

19 Gen. 3.1-6. 

20 CL Matt. 4.2-4. 

21 Matt. 17.20. 

22 Cf. Acts 10.10. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 



327 



they fast, become more illustrious? Moses received the Law 
when he was fasting, 23 and so Peter, when he was fasting, was 
taught the grace of the New Testament. Daniel, too, by virtue 
of his fasting, stopped the jaws of the lions and saw the events 
of future times. 24 Or what salvation can we have unless by 
fasting we wipe out our sins, since Scripture says fasting and 
almsgiving purge away sin! 25 

Who, then, are these new teachers who reject the merit of 
fasting? Is it not the voice of heathens who say: 'Let us eat 
and drink, 3 whom the Apostle ridicules, saying: 'If, as men 
do, I fought with beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? 
If the dead do not rise, "let us eat and drink for tomorrow 
we shall die" J ? 26 That is to say, what did my struggle even 
unto death profit me, except that I might redeem my body? 
And it is redeemed in vain if there is no hope of a resurrection. 
And if all hope of the resurrection is lost, let us eat and 
drink and lose not the enjoyment of the things present, for 
we have none to come. They should indulge in food and 
drink who hope for nothing after death. 27 

Finally, the Epicureans say they are followers of pleasure 
because death means nothing to them, because that which 
is dissolved has no feeling, and that which has no feeling 
means nothing to us. Thus they show that they are living 
only carnally not spiritually, and they do not discharge the 
duty of the soul, but only of the flesh, thinking that all life's 
duty is ended with the separation of soul and body, that the 
merit of virtues and all the vigor of the soul come to an end, 
that they cease completely when the feeling of the body 
ceases, that there are no remains of the soul although even 
the body itself does not at once disintegrate. Does the soul, 

23 Cf. Exod. 34.28. 

24 Dan. 14.37,38; 9.2,3. 

25 Cf. Tob. 12.8,9. 

26 1 Cor. 15.32. 

27 The Benedictine edition repeats this paragraph. 



328 SAINT AMBROSE 

then, disintegrate before the body, although for their own 
satisfaction, they must see that flesh and bones survive after 
death, and in all truthfulness they may not disavow the grace 
of the resurrection? 

Rightly, then, does the Apostle, arguing against such men, 
warn us not to be shaken by such opinions, saying: 'Do not 
be led astray, "evil companionships corrupt good morals." 
Be righteously sober, and do not sin; for some have no knowl- 
edge of God/ 38 Sobriety, then, is a good, for drunkenness is 
a sin. 

But as to Epicurus himself, the champion of pleasure, 
whom we have frequently mentioned in order to prove that 
these men are either disciples of the heathen or followers of 
the Epicurean sect, whom the philosophers themselves exclude 
from their company as the patron of luxury what if we show 
that he is more tolerable than these men? He declares, as 
Demarchus 29 asserts, that neither drinking, nor banquets, nor 
a line of sons, nor the embraces of women, nor abundance of 
fish, and other such things, which are prepared for splendid 
use at a banquet, make life sweet, but sober discussion does 
so. He adds, too, that those who do not yearn for the richness 
of banquets immoderately use them moderately. One who 
delights only in using the juice of plants or bread and water 
despises feasts of delicacies, for many inconveniences arise 
therefrom. Elsewhere, too, these [philosophers] say: e lt is not 
excessive banquets nor drinking but a life of temperance 
which occasions the sweetness of pleasure.' 

Since, then, philosophy has disowned those men, is the 
Church not to exclude them, especially since by reason of the 
bad case which they have they frequently undo themselves 

28 1 Cor. 15.33. 

29 Demarchus is mentioned by no other writer besides Ambrose. The 
Benedictines suggest he may have meant Hermachus, successor and 
disciple of Epicurus, 267 B. c. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 329 

by their own assertions? For, although their principal tenet is 
that there is no enjoyment of pleasure except that which is 
derived from food and drink, yet, knowing that they cannot 
without the greatest shame cling to so disgraceful a definition, 
and that they are eschewed by all, they have tried to color it 
with a kind of stain spurious argument. Thus, one of them 
has said : 'While we are desirous of pleasure through banquets 
and songs, we have lost that which is infused into us by the 
reception of the Word by which alone we can be saved.' 

Do they not appear to us by these various arguments to 
differ and disagree? Scripture, too, condemns them, and did 
not fail to mention those whom the Apostle refuted, as did 
Luke, who wrote his book as a history telling us in the Acts 
of the Apostles: 'And some of the Epicurean and Stoic 
philosophers debated with him; and some said, "What is 
this babbler trying to say?" But others, "He seems to be a 
herald of strange gods. 53 ' 30 

Yet, the Apostle did not leave these people without favor, 
for even Dionysius the Areopagite believed along with his 
wife Damaris and many others. So that assembly of learned 
and eloquent men showed that they were themselves over- 
come in a simple discussion by the example of believers. 
What, then, do those men want who are trying to corrupt 
those whom the Apostle has gained, and whom Christ has 
redeemed with His Blood? They assert that baptized persons 
ought not to strive for training of the virtues, that reveling 
does them no harm, nor excess of pleasure, that they are 
foolish who go without these things. Virgins ought to marry, 
to bear children, and widows likewise should repeat that 
converse with man which they one experienced with bad 
results, and, even if they can restrain themselves, they are in 
error who do not wish to enter marriage again. 

What then? Is it proper for us to put off the man, and put 

30 Acts 17.18. 



330 SAINT AMBROSE 

on the beast, and stripping ourselves of Christ to clothe 
ourselves or add to our clothing the garments of the Devil? 
The very teachers of the heathen did not think honor and 
pleasure could be joined together, because they would seem 
thus to class beasts with men, and shall we infuse the habits 
of beasts into the breast of man. and inscribe on the reasonable 
mind the unreasonable manner of wild beasts? 

Yet, there are many kinds of animals which, having lost 
their mate, refrain from mating again and spend the time in 
a life of solitude; many, too, feed on simple herbs and will 
not learn how to slake their thirst except at a pure stream; 
one may also see dogs refrain from food forbidden them, 
closing their famishing mouths if restraint is put upon them. 
Are men to be warned against the practice which brute 
beasts have learned through man not to transgress? 

What is more excellent than fasting which makes the years 
of youth grow aged so that there is an old age of character? 
For, as advanced age is stimulated by excess in food and by 
drunkenness, so the wildness of youth is subdued by scanty 
food and by the running stream. An external fire is ex- 
tinguished by pouring on water, nor is it strange if the inner 
heat of the body is cooled by a drink from a stream, for the 
flame is fed with fuel or it fails. As things like hay and 
straw, wood and oil, are the nourishment of the fire by 
which it is fed, so, if you take them away or do not supply 
them, the fire dies. Likewise, by food the heat of the body is 
supported or lessened; it is aroused by food; by food it is 
tamed. Therefore is excess the mother of lust. 

And is not temperance in harmony with nature and that 
divine law which in the beginning of all things gave the 
springs for drink and the fruits of trees for food? After the 
Flood, the just man found wine a source of temptation to 
him. 31 Let us, then, use the natural food of temperance, and 

31 Cf. Gen, 9.20-21. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 33 1 

would that we all could do so ! But, because all are not strong, 
the Apostle therefore says : 'Use a little wine for thy frequent 
infirmities.' 32 We must drink it not for our pleasure, but for 
our infirmity,, sparingly as a remedy, not excessively as a 
gratification. 

Lastly, Elias, whom the Lord was rearing to the perfection 
of virtue, found at his head a cake and a vessel of water, and 
in the strength of that food he fasted forty days. 33 Our 
fathers, when they crossed the sea on foot, drank water, not 
wine. 34 Daniel and the Hebrew youths were fed with their 
native food 35 and given water to drink; the one was victorious 
over the fury of lions, 36 the others saw the burning fire play 
around their limbs with harmless touch. 37 

And why should I speak of men? Judith, absolutely un- 
moved by the luxurious banquet of Holofernes, solely by 
virtue of her temperance carried off the triumph which 
men's strength despaired of; she lifted her country from 
siege; she slew the general of the army with her own hands. 38 
This is clear proof that his luxury had enervated that warrior, 
terrible to the nations, and temperance in food had made 
this woman stronger than men. Here it was not in her sex 
that nature was overcome, but she overcame through her 
own food. Esther by her fasts won the favor of a proud 
king. 39 Anna, who for eighty-four years as a widow wor- 
shiped in the temple with fasts and prayers day and night, 
knew Christ whom John announced, he who was the teacher 
of abstinence and, as it were, a new angel on earth. 40 

32 1 Tim. 5.23. 

33 Of. 3 Kings 19.6-8. 

34 Cf. Exod. 17.6. 

35 Cf. Dan. L8,15. 

36 Cf. Dan. 14.39. 

37 Cf Dan. 3.23,49,50. 

38 Cf. Judith 13. 

39 Cf. Esther 4.16. 

40 Cf. Matt. 3.4. 



332 SAINT AMBROSE 

O foolish Eliseus, feeding the Prophets with wild and 
bitter gourds! 41 and Esdras, unmindful of the Scriptures, 
although he restored the Scriptures from memory! 42 Foolish 
Paul, glorying in fasts, 43 if fasting profits nothing! 

How are they of no profit, if they cleansed sins? If you 
make an offering with humility and with mercy, as Isaias 
said by the Spirit of God, your bones shall be fat and you 
shall be like a watered garden. 44 Then your soul and its 
virtues gleam through the spiritual richness of fasting, and 
your joys are manifold because of the richness of your mind, 
so there will be in you the ebriety of sobriety, like that cup 
of which the Prophet says : 'My brimming cup, how excellent 
it is!' 45 

Not only is that temperance, praiseworthy which leaves 
aside food, but that, too, which leaves aside lust, for it is 
written: 'Go not after thy lusts: but say no to thy own will. 
If thou give to thy soul her desires, thou wilt be a joy to thy 
enemies/ and below: c Wine and women make wise men 
fall off.' 4S Therefore, Paul teaches temperance even in mar- 
riage, 47 for one who is incontinent in marriage is like an 
adulterer and violates the Apostle's law. 

Why should I tell of the great grace of virginity which 
was worthy of being chosen by Christ so that it might be 
the bodily temple of God, in which, as we read, dwelt the 
fullness of the Godhead bodily. 48 A virgin begot the salvation 
of the world, a virgin brought forth the life of all. Should 
virginity, then, be abandoned which was of benefit to all in 
Christ? A virgin carried Him whom this world cannot contain 

41 Cf. 4 Kings 4.39. 

42 Cf. 2 Esd. 8.2. 

43 Cf. 2 Cor. 11.27. 

44 a. Isa. 58.1 L 

45 Ps. 22.5. 

46 Eccli. 18.30,31; 19.2. 

47 Cf. 1 Cor. 7.2-6. 

48 Cf. Col. 2.9. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 333 

or support. And when He was born of Mary's womb, He 
yet preserved the enclosure of her modesty, and the inviolate 
seal of her virginity. Thus, Christ found in the virgin that 
which He wanted to be His own, that which the Lord of all 
might take for Himself. Through a man and a woman flesh 
was cast out of paradise; it was joined to God [through a 
virgin] . 

What shall 1 say of that other Mary, the sister of Moses, 
who, as leader of a woman's band, went on foot over the 
waters of the sea? 49 By the same gift Thecla was reverenced 
by lions, so that the unfed beasts lying at the feet of their 
prey prolonged a holy fast and harmed the maiden neither 
by wanton glance nor claw, for the sacredness of virginity is 
harmed even by a glance. 

Again, with what reverence for virginity did the holy 
Apostle speak: 'Now concerning virgins I have no com- 
mandment of the Lord, yet I give an opinion, as one having 
obtained mercy from the Lord.' 50 He has not a command- 
ment, he has a counsel, for what is beyond the law is not 
made a precept, but is rather advised by way of counsel. 
Authority is not taken for granted, but grace is pointed out, 
nor is it pointed out by anyone whatsoever, but by one who 
has obtained the mercy of the Lord. Are the counsels of 
these men better than the Apostle's? Says the Apostle: C I 
give an opinion'; but they think they have to dissuade one 
from striving for virginity. 

We ought to realize what praise of it the Prophet, or, 
rather, Christ in the Prophet, has expressed in a short verse: 
'My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden en- 
closed, a fountain sealed up/ 51 Christ says this to the Church 
which He wishes to be a virgin > without spot, without 

49 Cf. Exod. 15.20. 

50 1 Cor. 7.25. 

51 Cant. 4.12. 



334 SAINT AMBROSE 

wrinkle. A rich garden is virginity which brings forth many 
fruits of rich odor. C A garden enclosed 3 [is virginity] because 
it is shut in on all sides by the wall of chastity. C A fountain 
sealed up' is virginity for it is the fount and wellspring of 
modesty which keeps the seal of purity inviolate, in whose 
source there may shine the image of God, since the pureness 
of simplicity coincides with chastity of the body. 

And no one can doubt that the Church is a virgin, which, 
also in Corinthians, 52 the Apostle Paul espoused to present 
as a chaste virgin to Christ. Thus, in the first Epistle he gives 
a counsel, and considers the gift of virginity good, since it 
is not disturbed by the troubles of the present world, nor 
polluted by any filthiness, nor shaken by any storm; in the 
later Epistle he becomes a godparent for Christ, because he 
is able to attest the virginity of the Church by the purity of 
its people. 

Tell me now, Paul, in what way you will give counsel 
under the present distress? 'He who is unmarried, 3 he says, 
Is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may 
please God.' He adds, too: 'And the unmarried woman, and 
the virgin, thinks about the things of the Lord, that she may 
be holy in body and spirit.' 53 She has her wall, protecting her 
against the storms of this world, and, thus fortified by the 
enclosure of God's protection, she is disquieted by no winds 
of this world. Counsel is good, then, because in counsel there 
is advantage; in precept, fetters. Counsel attracts the willing; 
precept binds the unwilling. If anyone has followed counsel, 
and has not regretted it, she has reached an advantage. But 
if one has regretted it, she has no reason to blame the Apostle. 
She herself should have decided her own weakness, and she 
is responsible for her own will, since she bound herself by 
fetters and a knot too heavy to bear. 

52 Cf. 1 Cor. 7.26. 

53 1 Cor. 7.32,34. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 335 

Therefore, he gives to some counsel, to others he shows a 
remedy like a good physician desirous of preserving the 
steadfastness of virtue in the strong, and of giving health to 
the infirm: 'He who is weak, let him eat vegetables,' 54 let 
him take a wife; he who is stronger, let him seek the stronger 
meat of virtue. Rightly he adds: 'But he who stands firm in 
his heart, being under no constraint, but is free to carry out 
his own will, and has decided to keep his virgin he does 
well. Therefore both he who gives his virgin in marriage does 
well, and he who does not give her does better. A woman is 
bound as long as her husband is alive, but if her husband dies, 
she is free. Let her marry whom she pleases, only let it be in 
the Lord. But she will be more blessed, in my judgment, if 
she remains as she is. And I think that I also have the Spirit of 
God. 555 This is to have the counsel of God, to seek diligently 
into all things, and to advise those things that are better, 
to point out those that are safer. 

A cautious guide points out many paths so that each one 
may proceed along that which he wishes and considers 
suitable for himself, provided he happens on one by which he 
can reach the camp. The path of virginity is good, but, being 
lofty and steep, it requires stronger wayfarers. Good also is 
that [path] of widowhood, not as difficult as the former, but 
being rocky and rough it demands more cautious wayfarers. 
Good, also, is that of marriage; being smooth and straight, 
it reaches the camp of the saints by a more roundabout 
way, it admits most persons. Virginity, therefore, has its 
rewards, widowhood has its merits, and there is place, too, 
for conjugal modesty. There are steps and progress in each 
and every virtue. 

Stand firm, therefore, in your heart so that no one may 
undermine you, so that no one can overthrow you. The 

54 Rom. 14.2. 

55 1 Cor. 7.37-40. 



336 SAINT AMBROSE 

Apostle has explained what it is 'to stand/ that is, what was 
said to Moses: 'The place whereon thou standest is holy 
ground; 56 for no one stands unless he stands by faith, unless 
he stands firm in the determination of his heart. Elsewhere, 
we also read: 'But stand thou here with me.' 57 Two things 
were said to Moses by the Lord: 'where thou standest is holy 
ground,' and 'stand thou here with me,' that is, you stand with 
me, if you stand in the Church. The very place is holy, the 
very ground is rich in sanctity, and abounding in a harvest 
of virtues. 

Stand, therefore, in the Church, stand where I appeared 
to you, there I am with you. Where the Church is, there is 
the most solid lodging for your mind; there is the foundation 
for your soul, where I appeared to you in the bush. You are 
the bush, I am fire. Fire is in the bush, I in your flesh. 
Wherefore I am the fire so that I may give light to you, and 
that I may consume your thorns, that is, your sins, and that 
I may show you my grace. 

Standing firm in your hearts, rout from the Church the 
wolves which are trying to carry off prey. Let there be no 
sloth in you, let not your mouth be evil, nor your tongue 
bitter. Sit not in the council of vanity, for it is written: 'I 
have not sat in the council of vanity.' 58 Listen not to those 
who disparage their neighbors, lest while you listen to others 
you be stirred up to dishonor your neighbors and it may be 
said to each one of you: 'Sitting thou didst disparage thy 
brother.' 59 

Men sit when they disparage, but they stand when they 
bless the Lord, to whom it is said: 'Behold, now bless ye the 
Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, who stand in the house of 
the Lord.' 60 One who sits (to speak of the bodily habit) is, 

56 Exod. 3.5. 

57 Deut. 5.31. 

58 Ps. 25.4. 

59 Ps. 49.20. 

60 Ps. 133.1,2. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 337 

as it were, enervated, when the body is idle and when he 
relaxes the tension of his mind. But a cautious watchman, 
an active searcher, a wide-awake guard before the camp, 
stands. The soldier on duty, who wishes to anticipate the 
enemy's designs, stands in the battle line before he is expected. 

'Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.' 61 One who 
stands knows not how to engage in detraction. For it is the 
tales of men in idleness wherein detraction is sown, malice 
is disclosed. Therefore the Prophet says: 'I have held in 
hatred the company of malicious men, and I will not sit with 
the wicked.' 62 And in Psalm 36, which he has filled with 
moral precepts, he has put right at the beginning; 'Do not 
be malicious among the malicious, nor envious of those who 
do iniquity.' 63 Malignity harms more than malice, for malig- 
nity has neither pure simplicity nor open malice, but a hidden 
ill-will. It is more difficult to guard against what is hidden 
than against what is known. So our Saviour warns us to 
beware of malignant spirits, because they would capture us 
under the guise of sweet pleasures and a show of other things, 
when they hold out honor to entice us to ambition, riches to 
entice us to greed and power, the charm of pride. 

Therefore, not only in every act, but especially in the 
demand for a bishop, malignity should have no place, for in 
him the life of all is formed; so that he is a man preferred 
to all by a calm and peaceful decision, being chosen from 
among all, one who is to heal all, for: The meek man is the 
healer of the heart.' 64 And the Lord in the Gospel calls 
Himself this healer, saying: c lt is not the healthy who need 
a physician, but they who are sick.' 65 

He is the good Physician, who has taken upon Him our 

61 1 Cor. 10.12. 

62 Ps. 25.5. 

63 Ps. 36.1. 

64 Prov. 14.30. 

65 Matt. 9.12. 



338 SAINT AMBROSE 

infirmities, has healed our illnesses, and yet He, as It is 
written, did not glorify Himself becoming a high priest, but 
He who spoke to Him, the Father, said: 'Thou art my son, 
I this day have begotten thee.' And elsewhere He says: Thou 
art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.' 
Since He was to be the type of all priests He took flesh, so 
that 'in the days of his flesh with a loud cry and tears he 
offered up prayers and supplications to God the Father : and 
from those things which he suffered, though the Son of God, 
he learned obedience which he taught to us so that he might 
be the cause of our eternal salvation.' 66 At last, when His 
sufferings were completed, as though completed Himself, He 
gave health to all, He bore the sin of all 

So He Himself also chose Aaron as priest, 67 in order that 
not man's will but the grace of God should have chief place 
in the election of a priest, not the voluntary offering of 
himself, nor the taking of it upon himself, but the heavenly 
call; thus he may offer gifts for sins who can compassionate 
sinners, since He Himself, he says, bears our weakness. No 
one ought take the honor to himself, but be called by God, as 
was Aaron. Thus, even Christ did not demand but received 
the priesthood. 68 

Lastly, when the succession, derived through family descent 
from Aaron, contained rather heirs of the family than sharers 
of righteousness, there came, in the type of that Melchisedech 
of whom we read in the Old Testament, the true, 
Melchisedech, the true King of peace, the true King of justice, 
for his name is interpreted : 'Without father, without mother, 
without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end 
of life.' 69 This refers to the Son of God, who in His divine 

66 Heb. 5.5-9. 

67 Cf. Num. 17.8. 

68 Ci : . Heb. 5.2-4. 

69 Heb. 7.3. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 339 

generation had no mother, and in His birth from the Virgin 
Mary had no father. Begotten of the Father alone before 
the ages, born of the Virgin alone in this age, surely He 
could have no beginning of days, since He was in the 
beginning. And how could He have an end of life, since He 
is the Author of life to all? c He Himself [is] the beginning 
and the end of all' 70 But this is also referred to Him as an 
example, that a priest ought to be without father and mother, 
since in Him is chosen not nobility of family, but holiness of 
character and pre-eminence in virtues. 

Let there be in him faith and perfection of character, not 
one without the other, but let both meet in one with good 
works and deeds. Therefore the Apostle Paul wishes us to be 
imitators of those who through faith, he says, and patience, 
possess the promises made to Abraham, who by patience 
was worthy to receive and possess the grace of the blessing 
promised to him. 71 The Prophet David bids us be imitators 
of holy Aaron, for he set him among the saints of the Lord 
to be imitated by us, saying: 'Moses and Aaron are among 
his priests, and Samuel among them who call upon his 

379 

name. w 

Plainly he is a man worthy of being set before all to be 
followed, for, when a dreadful plague spread among the 
people because of stubborn persons, he offered himself be- 
tween the living and dead so that he might restrain the 
plague and that no more persons should perish. 73 Truly is he 
a man of priestly mind and spirit who with dutiful affection, 
like a good shepherd, offered himself for the flock of the 
Lord. Thus he broke the sting of death, checked its onslaught, 
refused it further course. Love assisted his merits, for he 
offered himself in behalf of those who were resisting him. 

70 Apoc. 1.8. 

71 Cf. Heb. 11.9, 

72 Ps. 98.6. 

73 Cf. Num. 16.46-48. 



340 SAINT AMBROSE 

Let those who cause dissension learn to fear to rouse the 
Lord and to appease His priests. Why? Did not an earth- 
quake swallow up Dathan and Abiron and Core because oi 
their dissensions? For, when Core and Dathan and Abiron 
had stirred up 250 men against Moses and Aaron, to separate 
from them, they rose up saying: 'Let it be enough for you, 
that all the congregation are holy, and the Lord among 
them. 374 

Then the Lord in anger spoke to all the congregation. 
The Lord considered and knew who were His 75 and He 
drew His saints to Himself. And those whom He did not 
choose He did not draw to Himself. And the Lord bade 
Core and all who had risen up with him against Moses and 
Aaron, the priests of the Lord, to take censers and put on 
incense, so that he who was chosen by the Lord might be 
established as holy among the Levites of the Lord. 

And Moses said to Core: 'Hear ye sons of Levi. Is it a 
small thing unto you, that God has separated you from the 
congreation of Israel, and drawn you to himself, to minister 
the services of the tabernacle of the Lord?' And further on: 
'Seek ye to perform your priesthood, as you and all the 
congregation are gathered against the Lord? For what is 
Aaron that you murmur against him?' 76 

Considering, then, what causes of offense existed, that 
unworthy persons desired to discharge the office of priest, and 
therefore were causing dissension, murmuring in censure of 
the judgment of God in the choice of His priest, the whole 
people were seized with great fear and dread of punishment 
came upon all. But when all implored that all should not 
perish through the insolence of a few, those guilty of crime 
were singled out, and 250 men with their leaders were 

74 Cf. Num. 16.35,3. 

75 Cf. 2 Tim. 2.19. 

76 Num. 16.841. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 341 

separated from the people, the earth with a groan was rent 
in the midst of the people, a deep gulf opened, the guilty were 
swallowed up, and these were removed from all the elements 
of this world, so they might neither contaminate the air by 
inhaling it, the sky by beholding it, the sea by touching it, 
nor the earth by their entombment. 

The punishment ended, but the wickedness did not end, 
for there arose in consequence of this very thing a great 
murmuring on the part of the people that these persons had 
perished through the priests. With what anger the Lord would 
have destroyed them all had He not been swayed first by 
the prayers of Moses and Aaron, and then by the inter- 
vention of His high priest Aaron, preferring to bestow on 
them, with greater humiliation to them, the grace which 
they had spurned! 

Mary the prophetess, who with her brothers had crossed 
the waters of the sea on foot, and, because she did not yet 
know the mystery of the Ethiopian woman and had mur- 
mured against her brother Moses, broke out with leprous 
spots, so that she would hardly have been cured of the 
contagion had not Moses begged it. 77 Yet that murmuring 
refers to the type of the synagogue which does not know the 
mystery of the Ethiopian woman, that is, the Church, which 
is taken from the nations, and murmurs with daily reproach, 
and envies this people, by whose faith it shall be delivered 
from the leprosy of unbelief, in accord with what we read: 
that 'a partial blindness only has befallen Israel, until the 
full number of the Gentiles should enter, and thus all Israel 
should be saved.' 78 

And that we may observe how in priests divine grace 
works rather than human grace, of the many rods which 
Moses had received from tribes and had laid away, that of 

77 Cf. Num. 12.10-15. 

78 Rom. 11.25. 



342 SAINT AMBROSE 

Aaron alone blossomed. Thus, the people saw that the gift 
of the divine call is to be looked for in a priest, and they 
ceased to claim equal favor for a human choice, although 
before they thought they had a similar privilege. What did 
that rod show except that the priestly grace never decays, and 
in the deepest lowliness it has in its office the flower of power 
entrusted to it, or that this also is referred to in mystery? 
Nor do we think this happened without purpose, toward 
the end of the life of Aaron the priest* It seems to be manifest 
that the ancient people, decaying by reason of the long- 
continued unfaithfulness of their priests, formed anew, at 
last, in zeal for the faith and devotion, by the example of 
the Church, will again send forth with renewed grace the 
flower dead for so many ages. 

But what is meant by the fact that, after Aaron was dead, 
God commanded not all the people, but only Moses who is 
among the priests of the Lord, to clothe with the garments of 
Aaron the priest, his son Eleazar, 79 except that we should 
understand that a priest must consecrate a priest, and he 
himself clothe him with the vestments, that is, with priestly 
virtues; then, if he sees that he lacks none of the priestly 
garments, and all things are in good order, he admits him to 
the sacred altars. One who is to make supplication for the 
people should be chosen by the Lord and approved by the 
priests, so there may be nothing which may give serious 
offence in him whose duty it is to intercede for the offences 
of others. The priestly virtue is of no ordinary kind, for he 
has to beware of taking part not only in more serious faults, 
but even in the least. He must be prompt to show mercy, not 
regret a promise, recall the fallen, have sympathy with pain, 
preserve meekness, love piety, repel or quell anger; let him 
be like a trumpet urging the people to devotion, exalting 
them to tranquility. 

79 Cf. Num. 20.26. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 343 

The old saying is: 'Accustom yourself to being consistent, 
so that your life will set forth as it were a picture, always 
preserving the same likeness which it received. 3 How can he 
be consistent who is at one time aflame with anger, at another 
seething with fierce indignation, now with face aglow, now 
changed to paleness, varying and changing color every 
moment? But, granted that it is natural to be angry, or 
that there generally is good reason therefor, it is man's duty 
to temper wrath; not to be carried away with the fury of a 
lion, not knowing how to be gentle; not spreading tales, nor 
engendering family quarrels, for it is written: C A passionate 
man diggeth up sin.' 80 He that is double-minded is not con- 
sistent, nor is he consistent who knows not how to check him- 
self in anger, of whom David aptly says: 'Be angry, and sin 
not.' 81 He does not control anger but gives way to nature, 
which man cannot prevent but can moderate. Therefore, 
although we are angry, let our passion give vent to natural 
emotion, not to unnatural sin. For who would permit one 
who cannot govern himself to receive others to govern? 

Therefore, the Apostle has provided a pattern, saying that 
a bishop must be blameless, 82 and elsewhere he says: Tor a 
bishop must be blameless as being the steward of God, not 
proud, or ill-tempered, or a drinker, or a brawler, or greedy 
for base gain.' 83 How can the compassion of one who dis- 
tributes alms and the greed of a covetous man agree with 
one another? 

I have set down what I have learned to avoid, but the 
Apostle is the master of virtues who instructs us to refute 
those who gainsay us with patience, who lays down the rule 
that he be the husband of one wife, 84 not in order to exclude 

80 Prov. 15.18. 

81 Ps. 4.5. 

82 Cf. 1 Tim. 3.2. 

83 Titus 1.7. 

84 Cf. Titus 1.6. 



344 SAINT AMBROSE 

him from the privilege of marriage (for this is beyond the 
force of the precept), but that he may by conjugal chastity 
preserve the grace of his baptism; or, again, that he be 
induced by the Apostle's authority to beget children, for he 
speaks of having sons, not entering or repeating marriage. 

I have not passed over this point, because many persons 
contend that the husband of one wife has reference to the 
time after baptism, so that any impediment which would 
ensue would be washed away in baptism. Indeed, all faults 
and sins are washed away, so that, if one has polluted his 
body by many whom he has not bound to himself by the 
marriage law, these are all forgiven him. But the marriages 
are not done away with if he has made a second contract, 
for sin, not the law, is loosed by the laver [of baptism]. There 
is no sin in marriage, but there is a law. Whatever is of law, 
therefore, is not remitted like a sin, but it is retained, like a 
law. Therefore, the Apostle laid down the law saying: 'If 
anyone is without reproach, the husband of one wife. 585 
Whoever, then, is without reproach, the husband of one wife, 
is included among those held by the law to be qualified for 
the priesthood, but he who entered a second marriage has 
not the guilt of pollution, though he is disqualified from the 
privilege of the priesthood. 86 

Having stated what is lawful, let us state in addition what 
is reasonable. Let us understand, first of all, that not only 
did the Apostle lay down rules covering a bishop and priest, 
but the Fathers, also, in the Council of Nicaea, 87 added the 
mandate that no one who has contracted a second marriage 
should be admitted to the clergy. How can he console or 
honor a widow, or urge her to preserve her widowhood, or 

85 1 Tim. 3.2. 

86 See Tertullian, Ad uxorem 2.7. 

87 That a decree of the Council o Nicaea forbade clergy to be drawn 
from those who had contracted a second marriage is not among the 
canons. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 345 

the faith pledged to her husband, which he himself has not 
kept in regard to his first marriage? Or what would be the 
difference between priest and people if they were bound by 
the same laws? The life of a priest ought to surpass others as its 
grace surpasses, and he who binds others by his precepts ought 
himself to keep the precepts of the law in himself. 

How I fought against being ordained! And, finally, when 
I was compelled, I tried at least to have the ordination 
deferred! But the prescribed rule did not avail, pressure 
prevailed. Yet the Western bishops approved my ordination 
by their decision, and the Eastern bishops, too, by their 
examples. 88 Yet the ordination of a new convert is prohibited 
lest he be lifted up by pride. 89 If the ordination was not 
postponed it was because of constraint, and if humility which 
is becoming to the priesthood is not wanting, where there is 
no cause, blame will not be imputed. 

Now, if in other churches so much consideration attends 
the ordination of a bishop, how much care is needed in the 
church at Vercelli where two things seem to be equally 
demanded of the bishop, the restraint of the monastery and 
the discipline of the Church? These matters so different, 
Eusebius of holy memory was the first in the lands of the 
West to bring together, so that living in the city he observed 
the rules of the monks, and ruled the Church in the temper- 
ance of fasting. 90 For, one brings much support to the grace 
of the priesthood if he binds youth to the practice of 
abstinence and to the rule of purity, and forbids them, even 
though living in the city, the manners and mode of the city. 

Hence came that procession of heroes Elias, Eliseus, John, 
son of Elizabeth who, clothed in sheepskins and goatskins, 

88 In the election of Nectarius as Bishop of Constantinople. Cf. above, 
Letter 42 n. 3. 

89 Cf. 1 Tim. 3.6. 

90 Like Eusebius, Ambrose had the clergy living with him after the 
death of his brother Satyrus. 



346 SAINT AMBROSE 

poor and needy, afflicted with distress and pain, wandered 
in deserts among steep and wooded mountains, pathless rocks, 
rough coves, marshy pitfalls, of whom the world was not 
worthy. Hence came Daniel, Ananias, Azarias, Misael, who 
were reared in a royal palace, were fed with fasting, as 
though in the desert, with coarse food and ordinary drink. 
Rightly did these royal slaves prevail over kingdoms, despise 
captivity, shaking off its yoke, subdue powers, overcome the 
elements, quench the nature of fire, dull the flames, blunt 
the edge of the sword, stop the mouths of lions. They were 
found most strong when they were esteemed most weak; 
they fled not from the mocking of men, for they hoped for 
heavenly rewards; they did not dread the darkness of prison, 
for on them shone the beauty of eternal light. 

In imitation of these blessed Eusebius left his country and 
his family and preferred living in foreign lands to ease at 
home. For the faith, too, he preferred and chose the hard- 
ships of exile, and Dionysius of holy memory joined him, he 
who esteemed the emperor's friendship less than voluntary 
exile. Thus these illustrious men, when armed bands sur- 
rounded them and an army closed in on them, when they 
were torn from the great Church, triumphed over the 
imperial power, for by these hardships on earth they pur- 
chased fortitude of spirit and kingly power. Those from 
whom the band of soldiers and din of arms could not tear the 
faith subdued the raging of a bestial spirit which could not 
harm the saints. For, as you have in Proverbs : e As the roaring 
of a lion, so also is the anger of a king. 391 

He [the emperor] admitted he was beaten when he asked 
them to change their opinion, but they thought their pen 
was mightier than a sword of iron. Then was unbelief so 
damaged that it fell; the faith of the saints was undamaged. 
They desired no tomb in their native country, for a dwelling 

91 Prov. 19.12. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 347 

in heaven was waiting for them. They wandered over the 
whole earth, as having nothing, and possessing all things. 92 
Wherever they were sent they looked upon it as a place of 
delight, for, being rich in faith, they were in want of nothing. 
They even enriched others, being poor themselves in earthly 
means, but rich in grace. They were tried but not destroyed 
in fasting, in labors, in prisons, in watchings. From weakness 
they emerged strong. 93 They did not await the enticement of 
pleasures, for hunger fattened them; the parching heat of 
summer did not bum those whom the hope of everlasting 
grace refreshed; nor did the cold of icy lands break them 
whose devotion ever budded afresh with glowing fervor. They 
did not fear the chains of men, for Jesus had set them free; 
they wanted not to be rescued from death, for they expected 
to be raised again by Christ. 

At last, blessed Dionysius begged in prayer that he might 
lay down his life in exile, fearing lest on his return home he 
would find the minds of people or clergy disturbed by the 
teaching practice of unbelievers, and he obtained this favor, 
so that he bore within him in a calm heart the peace of the 
Lord. Therefore, as blessed Eusebius first raised the standard 
of suffering, so blessed Dionysius in the land of exile gave up 
his life with higher honor than the martyrs. 

This patience in blessed Eusebius was nourished by the 
discipline of the monastery, and from the custom of yet 
harsher observance he derived the power of enduring labors. 
Who doubts that in stricter Christian devotion these two 
qualities are the more excellent: the duties of clerics and the 
customs of monks? The one is a discipline which trains for 
courtesy and morality, the other for abstinence and patience; 
the one as on an open stage, the other in secrecy; the one is 
observed, the other is hidden from sight. So that good athlete 

92 Cf. 2 Cor. 6.10. 

93 Cf. Heb, 11.34, 



348 SAINT AMBROSE 

says: 'We have been made a spectacle to this world and to 
angels.' 94 Surely he was worthy of being observed by angels, 
while he was striving to reach the goal of Christ, while he 
strove to lead the life of angels on earth and overcome the 
spiritual wickedness on high, for he wrestled with spiritual 
forces of wickedness. 95 He deserved to have the world gaze 
on him that the world might imitate him. 

The one life, then, is in the arena, the other in a cave; 96 
the one is opposed to the confusion of the world, the other to 
the desires of the flesh; the one subdues, the other flees the 
pleasures of the body; the one more agreeable, the other 
safer; the one ruling, the other reigning in self; yet each 
denying herself that she may be Christ's, because to the perfect 
it was said: c lf anyone wishes to come after me, let him 
deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.' 97 He 
follows Christ who can say: 'It is now no longer I that live, 
but Christ lives in me.' 98 

Paul denied himself when, aware that chains and great 
tribulations awaited him in Jerusalem, he willingly offered 
himself to danger, saying: 'Nor do J count my life more 
precious than myself, if only I may accomplish my course 
and the ministry of the word which I have received from 
the Lord Jesus. 599 And finally, when many stood about weep- 
ing and entreating him, he did not change his mind, so rigid 
a judge of itself is ready faith. 

The one, therefore, struggles, the other withdraws; the one 
overcomes enticements, the other flees them; for the one the 
world is a triumph, to the other a place of exile; to the one 
the world is crucified 100 and itself to the world, to the other 

94 1 Cor. 4.9. 

95 Cf. Eph. 6.12. 

96 This and the next two paragraphs contain a beautifully written con- 
trast of the active and contemplative life. 

97 Matt. 16.24. 

98 Gal. 2.20. 

99 Acts 20.24. 
100 Cf. Gal. 6.14. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 349 

it is unknown; the one has more trials, and so a greater 
victory; the other falls less often, and keeps guard more 
easily. 

Elias himself, that the word of his lips might be confirmed, 
was sent by the Lord to hide himself near the torrent 
Carith. 101 Achab made threats; Jezabel made threats. Elias 
grew afraid and rose up, and in the strength of that spiritual 
food he walked for forty days and forty nights to the mount 
of God, Horeb, and he entered a cave and abode there. 102 
Later he was sent to anoint kings, for he was inured to 
patience by dwelling in lonely places, and, as if supplied with 
the fatness of virtue by his rough food, he went on stronger. 

John, too, grew up in the desert, and he baptized the 
Lord, 103 and there he first practiced that austerity that later 
he might rebuke the king. 

Since in speaking of blessed Elias' dwelling in the desert we 
have idly passed over names of places not given without a 
purpose, it seems fitting to go back to what they mean. 
Elias was sent to the torrent of Horeb where ravens fed him, 
brought him bread in the morning and flesh in the eve- 
ning. 104 Not without cause was bread brought in the morning, 
for it strenghtens man's heart. 105 And how was the Prophet 
fed if not with mystical food? At evening flesh was served 
him. Understand what you read, for Carith means 'under- 
standing' ; Horeb means 'every heart,' or c as a heart' ; Bersabee 
is interpreted c of the seventh well' or, in Latin, c of an oath.' 

Elias went first to Bersabee, to the mysteries of the holy 
law, to the sacraments of divine justice; later he was sent to 
the torrent, to that river's stream which gladdens the city of 
God. 106 You have both Testaments of the one author, the old 

101 Cf. 3 Kings 17.3. 

102 Cf. 3 Kings 19.8,9. 

103 a. Luke 3.2,19. 

104 Cf. 3 Kings 17.6. 

105 Cf. Ps. 103.15. 

106 Cf. Ps. 45.5. 



350 SAINT AMBROSE 

Scripture like a well, deep and obscure, whence you draw 
with difficulty, not full, because the one who was to fill it had 
not yet come. Then later he says: C I have not come to destroy 
the Law, but to fulfill it. 5107 Thus the holy one is bidden by 
the Lord to cross over to the stream, 108 for he who has 
drunk of the New Testament not only is a river, but from 
his belly will flow rivers of living water, 109 rivers of under- 
standing, rivers of meditation, spiritual rivers. However, these 
dried up in the time of unbelief, lest the sacrilegeous would 
drink and lest unbelievers sup. 

There the ravens recognized the Prophet of the Lord, 
whom the Jews did not recognize. Crows fed the one whom 
a royal and noble race was persecuting. What is Jezabel who 
persecuted 110 except the synagogue spreading in vain, in vain 
abounding in the Scriptures which she neither guards nor 
understands? What ravens fed him but those whose young 
call him, whose cattle he feeds, as we read: s to the young 
ravens that cry to him?' 111 Those ravens knew whom they 
were feeding, for they were close to understanding and carried 
the food to that stream of sacred knowledge. 

He feeds the Prophet who understands and guards that 
which was written. Our faith gives him sustenance; our 
progress gives him nourishment; he feeds upon our minds and 
thoughts; his speech is fed with our understanding. We 
give him bread in the morning, when, lying in the light of the 
Gospel, we bring him the strength of our hearts. By these he 
is fed, by these he grows strong, with these he fills the mouths 
of those who fast, to whom the faithlessness of the Jews served 
not the food of faith. There, every word of the Prophet is a 

107 Matt. 5.17. 

108 Cf. 3 Kings 17.3. 

109 Cf. John 7.38. 

110 Cf. 3 Kings 19.2. 

111 Ps. 146.9. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 351 

fasting diet, for they do not see the interior fatness; it is 
empty and thin and cannot fatten their jaws. 

Perhaps, too, they brought the flesh at night, as stronger 
food, such as the Corinthians, whose minds were weak, could 
not take, and were fed therefore with the milk of the 
Apostle. 112 Thus, stronger food was brought at the evening of 
this world, bread in the morning. And because the Lord 
commanded this food to be served, that prophetic saying 
may well suit him in this place: 'Thou wilt give joy at the 
going out of mornings and evenings, 5 and below: 'Thou hast 
prepared their food, for so is its preparation.' 113 

Enough, I think, has been said of our Master; let us now 
go to the life of the disciples who have engaged themselves 
in that praise, celebrating it with hymns day and night. This 
is the service of the angels, to be always occupied with the 
praises of God, to propitiate and beseech the Lord with fre- 
quent prayers. They devote themselves to reading, or busy 
their minds with continual labors, and, removed from women, 
they provide a safeguard for one another. What a life is this in 
which there is nothing to fear and much to imitate! The 
hardship of fasting is compensated by tranquility of mind, 
it is lightened by practice, it is aided by leisure, or beguiled 
by occupation; it is not burdened by the cares of the world, 
or occupied with others' troubles, or weighted down by the 
distractions of the city. 

You realize what sort of teacher must be found for the 
preservation or teaching of this task, whom we can find if 
your unanimity shows us favor, if you forgive one another, if 
any one thinks he has been hurt by the other. 114 This is not 
the only pattern for righteousness, not to hurt one who has 
not hurt you, but also that of forgiving one who has hurt 

112 Ct I Cor. 3.2. 

113 Ps. 64.9,10. 

114 Cf. Eph. 4.32. 



352 SAINT AMBROSE 

you. We are generally hurt by another's deceit, by our 
neighbor's guile. Shall we think it virtue to avenge guile with 
guile, to repay deceit with deceit? If righteousness is a virtue, 
it should be free from reproach; nor should it ward of wicked- 
ness by wickedness. What virtue is it for you to punish others 
for the same things you do? That is only spreading wickedness, 
not avenging it. It makes no difference whom you mistreat, a 
just man or an unjust one, since mistreatment is not permitted 
you. Nor is there a difference in how you are ill-willed, 
whether out of desire to avenge or a wish to injure, since in 
either case it is not without reproach. Being so, one is the 
same as unjust, so it is said to you : c Be not ill- willed because 
of evildoers, nor envious of them that work iniquity,' 115 and 
above he says the same: 'I hate the company of them that do 
evil.' 116 Of course, he included everyone, he excepted no one; 
he mentioned ill-will, he asked not the cause. 

What better pattern of righteousness is there than the 
divine, for the Son of God says: 'Love your enemies' and 
again: Tray for those who persecute and calumniate you.' 117 
He so far removes from the perfect the desire for vengeance 
that He commands charity for those who do them harm. And 
since He had said in the old Scriptures: 'Revenge is mine 
and I will repay,' 118 He says in the Gospel that we must pray 
for those who have done us harm, so that He who said He 
will have to punish will not punish them; it is His wish to 
pardon by your consent with which He agrees according to 
His promise. For, if you seek revenge, you know that the 
unrighteous is punished more severely by his own convictions 
than by the severity of his judges. 

Since no one can be without some trouble, let us strive not 

115 Ps. 36.9. 

116 Ps. 25.5. 

117 Matt. 5.44. 

118 Deut. 32.35. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 353 

to have our troubles caused by our sin. And no one is so 
severely condemned by another's judgment as the fool by his 
own, for he is the author of his own evils. Therefore, let us 
keep away from tasks which are troublesome and fraught 
with discord, having no advantage, producing only added 
weight. Yet, we should live so as not to regret our decisions 
or our actions. A wise man usually looks ahead, so he will 
not often have to repent, for only God never repents. What 
is the advantage of righteousness but peace of mind? What 
is the meaning of living righteously but living with peace? As 
the pattern of the master is, so is the condition of the whole 
house. If these are needed for a home, how much more for the 
Church, 'Where there is rich and poor, slave and freeman, 
Greek and Syrian, patrician and plebeian, we are all one in 
Christ.' 119 

Let no one think that he is to be paid more deference 
because he is rich. 120 In the Church a man is rich if he is 
rich in faith, for the faithful man has a whole world of riches. 
Is it strange that the faithful man owns the world, since he 
owns Christ's inheritance, which is more priceless than the 
world? 'You were redeemed with the precious blood' surely 
was said to all, not only to the rich. But, if you wish to be 
rich, follow Him who says: 'Be you also holy in all your 
behavior.' This He says not only to the rich but to all, because 
He judges without respect of persons as His faithful witness, 
the Apostle, says: 'Spend the time of your sojourning not in 
luxury, nor in fastidiousness, nor haughtiness of heart, but in 
fear.' 121 You have been given time on this earth, not eternity; 
use the time as those who know they are going to set out 
from here. 

Trust not in riches, because they must all be left here; 

119 Col. 3.11. 

120 Cf. Prov. 17.5. 

121 1 Peter 1.18,19,15,17. 



354 SAINT AMBROSE 

only faith will go with you. Righteousness will be your 
companion if faith leads the way. Why do riches flatter you? 
'You were not redeemed with gold or silver,' with possessions 
or silk garments, 'from your vain manner of life, but by the 
precious blood of Christ Jesus.' 122 He is. rich who is an heir 
of God, a joint-heir of Christ. Despise not a poor man, for 
He made you rich. Despise not a man in want, for 'The 
poor man cried, and the Lord heard.' 123 Reject not the needy, 
for Christ even became poor although He was rich, but He 
became poor for you so that He might with His poverty 
enrich you. Exalt not yourself as rich; He sent forth His 
Apostles without money. 

And the first of them said: 'Silver and gold I have none.' 124 
He glories in poverty as if escaping contamination. 'Silver 
and gold,' says he, 'I have none,' not gold and silver. He 
does not know their order, for he does not know their use. 
'Silver and gold I have none, but faith I do have. I am rich 
enough in the name of Jesus, which is above every name.' 125 
I have not silver, neither do I desire it; I have not gold, 
neither do I want it. But I have what, you rich men do not 
have, I have what even you consider of more value, and I 
give it to the poor, so that I say in the name of Jesus: 
'Strengthen ye feeble hands, and weak knees.' 126 

But, if you wish to be rich, you must be poor. Then you 
will be rich in all things, if you are poor in spirit. Not 
property, but the spirit, makes one rich. 

There are some who abase themselves amid many riches, 
and they do so rightly and wisely, for the law of nature is 
sufficiently rich to all, whereby one quickly finds what is more 
than enough, but for lust all the abundance of riches is 

122 1 Peter 1.18,19. 

123 Ps. 33.7. 

124 Acts 3.6. 

125 Cf. Phil. 2.9. 

126 Isa. 35.3. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 355 

poverty. Finally, no one is born poor, he becomes so. Poverty 
is not in nature, but in our feelings; therefore it is easy for 
nature to be found rich, difficult for greed to be so. For, the 
more each one acquires, the more he thirsts and is parched 
by a certain intoxication of his desire. 

Why do you seek for a heap of riches as if it were 
necessary? Nothing is so necessary as to know what is not 
necessary. Why do you turn the blame upon the flesh? It is 
not the belly of the body, but greed of mind that makes a 
man unsatisfied. Does the flesh take away the hope of the 
future? Does the flesh destroy the sweetness of spiritual grace? 
Does the flesh hinder faith? Does the flesh concede anything 
to vain opinions, as to harsh masters? Rather does the flesh 
love moderate frugality, by which it is stripped of a burden, 
and is clothed in good health, because it lays down its 
concern and takes on tranquility. 

Riches themselves are not to be censured. 'The ransom of 
a man's life are his riches, 3127 for one who gives to the poor 
ransoms his soul. Therefore, even in riches there is scope 
for virtue. You are like helmsmen on a great sea. If one steers 
his course well, he passes quickly over the sea to reach harbor. 
But one who does not know how to manage his property is 
drowned by his load. Therefore it is written: 'The substance 
of the rich is a very strong city.' 128 

What is that city but Jerusalem which is in heaven where 
there is the kingdom of God? This is the good possession 
which produces everlasting fruit; the good possession which 
is not left here, but is possessed there. One who will have this 
possession says: The Lord is my portion.' 129 He says not: 
My portion extends from this boundary to that. He says not: 
My portion is among certain neighbors, except, perhaps, 

127 Prov. 13.8. 

128 Prov. 10.15. 

129 Ps. 72.26. 



356 SAINT AMBROSE 

among the Apostles, among the Prophets, among the Lord's 
saints. This is the righteous man's portion. He says not: My 
portion is in meadows, in forests, in plains, except perhaps in 
the plains of the forest where is found the Church of which it 
is written: 'We have found it in the fields of the forest/ 130 
He says not: My portion consists of herds of horses, for 
'Untrustworthy is the steed for safety.' 131 He says not: My 
portion consists of herds of oxen, asses, or sheep, except, 
perhaps, he counts himself among those herds which know 
their owner, and wishes to consort with that ass which does 
not shun the crib of Christ, 132 and that sheep is his portion 
which was led to the slaughter and the 'Lamb which was 
dumb before his shearer and did not open his mouth,' 133 in 
whose humiliation judgment has been exalted. Well does he 
say: 'Before his shearer, 5 because He laid on the cross what 
was superfluous, not His own essence; when He was stripped 
of His body, He did not lose His Godhead. 

Not everyone, therefore, says: 'The Lord is my portion.' 
The greedy man does not say this, because greed comes and 
says: You are my portion; I have you under my sway, you 
are become my slave, you sold yourself to me in that gold of 
yours, you turned yourself over to me in that possession of 
yours. The luxury-loving man does not say: Christ is my 
portion, because luxury comes and says: You are my portion; 
I made you my slave in that banquet, I caught you in the 
net of those feasts, I have you bound to payment by the 
surety of your gluttony. Do you not know that you valued 
your table more than your life? I convict you by your own 
judgment. Deny it if you can, but you cannot. Finally, you 
kept nothing for life, you spent all for your table. The 

130* Ps, 131,6, 

131 Ps. 32.17. 

132 Cf. Isa. 1.3. 

133 Isa. 53.7. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 357 

adulterer cannot say: 'The Lord is my portion/ because 
passion comes and says: I am your portion; you bound 
yourself to me by your love for that maiden, by a night with 
a harlot you came under my laws and into my power. The 
traitor does not say: Christ is my portion, because at once 
the vileness of sin rushes upon him and says : He is deceiving 
you, Lord Jesus, he is mine. 

This example we have, 134 that, when Judas had received 
the bread from Christ, the Devil entered his heart, as if 
claiming his possession, as if retaining his right to his portion, 
as if saying: 'He is not Yours, but mine; indeed he is my 
tool, Your betrayer; plainly he is mine. He reclines with You, 
and serves me; he dines with You, and eats with me; from 
You he took bread, from me money; he drinks with You, and 
sells me Your Blood.' And he proved how true were his words. 
Then Christ went out of him and Judas himself also 
abandoned Jesus, following the Devil. 

How many masters he has who has run away from the 
One! But let us not run from Him. Who will run away 
from Him whom they follow bound in chains, but willing 
chains, which loose and do not bind, and those who are 
bound with these chains boast and say: 'Paul, a prisoner of 
Christ Jesus, and Timothy.' 135 It is more glorious for us to be 
bound by Him than to be set free and loosed from others. 
Who, then, will run from peace? Who will run from salva- 
tion? Who will run from mercy? Who will run from redemp- 
tion? 

You see, my sons, the kind of men who have escaped, who 
followed after such things, and how they work although they 
are dead? Let us strive to reach the diligence of those 
virtues whose glory we so admire, and what we praise in 
others let us silently behold in ourselves. Nothing tender, 

134 Cf. John 13.2. 

135 Philem. 1.1. 



358 SAINT AMBROSE 

nothing weak attains to praise: The kingdom of heaven is 
taken by force, and the violent carry it away.' 136 The 
patriarchs ate the Iamb in haste. Faith is hasty, devotion is 
quick, hope is nimble, it does not love contradictions of the 
soul, but the passage from fruitless leisure to fruitful labor. 
What are you putting off until tomorrow? You can gain only 
today. Be careful lest you have not that and lose this. The loss 
of one hour is not slight and one hour is a portion of a whole 
life. 

There are young men who want to reach old age quickly 
so that they will no longer be subject to the will of their 
elders. There are old men who would like, if possible, to 
return to their youth. I approve of neither of these desires, 
because youths, tired of the present, as if ungrateful, seek a 
change of life, old men its lengthening; whereas youth can 
grow old in character, and old age fresh in action. Not age 
so much, but discipline, brings a betterment of habits. How 
much more, then, should we raise our hopes toward the 
kingdom of God where there will be newness of life, where 
there will be a change of grace, not of life. 

The reward is not obtained by laziness or sleep. The sleep- 
er does no work, leisure has no profit, but loss instead. Esau, 
by taking leisure, lost the primacy of blessing, 137 because he 
preferred to have food given him rather than to go in 
search of it. By his labor Jacob found favor with both his 
parents. 

Yet, although Jacob surpassed his brother in virtue and 
favor, he yielded to his wrath when he grieved over the 
younger borther's being preferred to him. So it is written: 
'Give place to the wrath,' 138 lest another's wrath draw you 
into sin when you wish to offer resistance, when you wish to 

136 Matt. 11.12. 

137 Cf. Gen. 27.35. 

138 Rom. 12.19. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 359 

be avenged. You can take the fault from him and from 
yourself if you decide to yield [to the other]. Imitate the 
patriarch who went far away at his mother's advice. What 
mother's? Rebecca's; that is, patience's. Who but patience 
could have had this plan? The mother loved her son, but she 
preferred him to be an exile from her rather than from God. 
And so, because she was a good mother, she gave to both, 
but to the younger son she gave a blessing which he could 
keep. She did not prefer one son to another, but the nimble 
to the leisurely, the faithful to the faithless. And even to the 
older son she gave not a little by loving the younger son, lest 
she make him a murderer. 

Since he 139 was exiled from his parents by reason of his 
piety, not for his wickedness, he spoke with God, he increased 
in wealth, in children, in favor. Nor was he puffed up by 
these things when he met his brother, but he humbly bowed 
down to him, not considering him as pitiless, as wrathful, as 
base-born, but reverencing Him whom he saw in his brother. 
So he bowed down seven times, which is the number of 
forgiveness, because he reverenced not the man, but Him 
who he saw in spirit would come in man's flesh to take away 
the sins of the world. 140 This mystery is disclosed to you in 
the response to Peter, when he says: 'How often shall my 
brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven 
times?' 141 You see that the forgiveness of sins is a type of that 
great sabbath, of that everlasting rest of grace, and it is 
granted by contemplation. 

But what is meant by his arranging his wives and child- 
ren and all servants and ordering them to bow down to the 
earth? 142 Surely it was not to that element which is generally 

139 Cf. Gen. 27.43. 

140 Cf, John 1.29. 

141 Matt. 18.21. 

142 Cf. Gen. 33.6. 



360 SAINT AMBROSE 

filled with blood, on which is the workshop of crime, or which 
is often rough with huge crags, or steep cliffs of barren dry 
ground, but as to that flesh which will be our protection. 
Perhaps that is the mystery the Lord taught you when He 
says: 'Not only seven times, but seventy times seven.' 143 

Therefore, do you forgive your injuries that you may be 
the children of Jacob. 144 Do not be angry like Esau, Imitate 
blessed David who like a good master left us what to imitate, 
saying: 'In return for their loving me, they reproached me, 
but I gave myself to prayer,' and when he was cursed, he 
prayed. Prayer is a good shield by which insult is kept away; 
cursing is repelled and is thrown frequently back upon those 
who uttered the curse so that they are wounded with their own 
weapon: 'Let them curse,' he says, 'but mayst thou bless.' 145 
One must solicit the curse of men, which brings the blessing 
of the Lord. 

And for the rest, consider, dearly beloved, why Jesus 
suffered outside the gate, 146 and do you leave this earthly 
city, because your city is Jerusalem which is above. Live 
there so that you may say: 'Our abode is in heaven.' 147 
Therefore, Jesus went forth from the city so that you, going 
forth from the world, might be above the world. Moses, the 
only one to see God, had his tabernacle outside the camp 
when he spoke with God, 148 and the blood of victims, which 
were offered for sin, was offered on altars, 149 but their bodies 
were burned outside the camp, because no one who is in the 
midst of the evils of this world can be rid of sin, nor is his 
blood acceptable to God unless he leaves the defilement of 
this body. 

143 Matt. 18.22. 

144 Cf. Col. 3.13. 

145 Ps. 108.4,28. 

146 Cf. Heb. 13.12. 

147 Phil. 3.20. 

148 Cf. Exod. 33.7-9. 

149 Cf. Exod. 29.12,13. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 361 

Love hospitality, by which blessed Abraham found favor, 
and received Christ as his guest, and Sara already worn with 
age deserved to have a son. Lot also escaped the destructive 
fire of Sodom, 150 and you can entertain angels if you offer 
your hospitality to strangers. What shall I say of Rahob who 
by this means found salvation? 151 

Show compassion for those who are bound by chains, as if 
you yourself were bound with them. Console those who 
grieve: e lt is better to go to the house of mourning, than to 
the house of joy/ 152 From one is borne the merit of a good 
work; from the other, a lapse into sin. Lastly, from the one 
you hope for a reward; in the other you receive it. Suffer 
with those who are in trouble, as if being in trouble with them. 

Let a woman show deference, not be a slave to her 
husband; let her show she is ready to be guided, not coerced. 
She is not worthy of wedlock who is worthy of chiding. Let 
the husband, too, manage his wife like a steersman, pay 
honor to her as his life partner, share with her as the co-heir 
of grace. 

Mothers, wean your children, love them, but pray for 
them that they may be long-lived above the earth, not on it, 
but above it. Nothing is long-lived on this earth, and that 
which lasts long is brief and more hazardous. Warn them 
rather to take up the cross of the Lord than to love this life. 

Mary the Mother of the Lord stood at the cross of her 
Son; no one told me this except St. John the Evangelist. 153 
Others described how the earth was shaken during the Lord's 
passion, how the sky was covered with darkness, 154 that the 
sun was darkened, that the thief was received into paradise 
after a confession of faith. 155 John taught what the others did 

150 Cf. Gen. 18.1,2; 19.2,3,13-22. 

151 Cf. Josue 2.1-19. 

152 Eccle. 7.3. 

153 Cf. John 19.25. 

154 Cf. Matt. 27.45. 

155 Cf. Luke 23.43. 



362 SAINT AMBROSE 

not, how when He hung on the cross He called his Mother 
by name, thinking it of more import that the Victor over 
suffering showed His Mother the marks of piety than that 
He gz.ve a heavenly gift. For, if it is pious to give pardon to 
a thief, it is a sign of richer devotion for a mother to be so 
honored with affection by her Son: 'Behold,' he says, 'thy 
son. . . . Behold, thy mother.' Christ made His will from the 
cross and apportioned the duties of piety between mother and 
disciple. The Lord made not only a public, but also a private 
will, and this will of His John sealed, a worthy witness of so 
great a Testator a good testament not of money, but of 
life eternal, which was written not with ink, but with the 
Spirit of the living God, who says: 'My tongue is the pen of a 
ready scribe. 5156 

Nor was Mary less than was befitting the Mother of Christ. 
When the Apostles fled, she stood before the cross and with 
reverent gaze beheld her Son's wounds, for she awaited not 
her Child's death, but the world's salvation. Or perhaps that 
'regal chamber' knew that through her Son's death would be 
the world's redemption, and she thought through her own 
death she would give herself for the common weal. But Jesus 
had no need of a helper in redeeming all, for He saved all 
without a helper. Therefore He says: 'I have become as a 
man without help, free among the dead/ 157 Indeed, He 
received the devotion of His Parent, but He did not seek 
another's aid. 

Imitate her, holy mothers, who in her dearly loved only 
Son set forth such an example of motherly virtue; you do 
not have sweeter children, nor did the Virgin seek the 
consolation of being able to bear another son. 

Masters, command your slaves not as if they are beneath 
you in rank, but remembering that they are sharers of the 



156 Ps. 44.2. 

157 Ps. 87.5,6. 



LETTERS TO PRIESTS 363 

same nature as yourselves. 158 Slaves, too, serve your masters 
with good-will, for each should patiently accept that to which 
he is born; obey not only good but also severe masters. For, 
what favor has your service if you zealously serve good mas- 
ters? But, if you render favors also to harsh, [you gain merit]. 
For, free men have no reward if, being guilty, they are pun- 
ished by judges, but this is merit if they suffer not being guilty. 
Therefore, if you serve your masters amid difficulties, con- 
templating the Lord Jesus, you will have a reward. Indeed, 
the Lord Himself, a just man, suffered from the unjust, and 
nailed our sins to His cross by His marvelous patience, so 
that whoever imitates Him may wipe away his sins with His 
Blood. 

In conclusion, turn, all of you, to the Lord Jesus. Let the 
joy of this life be in you in a good conscience, in suffering 
death with the hope of immortality, the assurance of the 
resurrection through the grace of Christ, truth with simplicity, 
faith with confidence, fasting with holiness, diligence with 
soberness, living with modesty, learning without vainglory, 
soberness of doctrine, faith without the intoxication of heresy. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 

158 Cf. 1 Peter 2.18. 




LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 



60. Ambrose, bishop, to Marcellina his sister (Easter, 386) 

|N MOST of your letters you make anxious inquiry 
about the church. Hear, then, what is going on: 
The day after I received your letter, in which you 
remarked that your dreams were troubling you, a great wave 
of serious disturbances began overwhelming us. This time it 
was not the Portian Basilica, that is, the one outside the walls, 1 
which was being demanded [by the Arians], but the new 
basilica, that is, the one inside the walls, the larger one. 

First, the military authorities, 2 imperial counts, 3 came with 
their command to me to hand over the [new] basilica 4 and 
also to see to it that the people caused no disturbance, I 
answered, as was proper, that ?i bishop could not hand over 
the temple of God. 

On the following day in church this [statement of mine] 

1 The so-called Basilica of St. Victor. 

2 principes virtutum. 

3 comites ccfnsistoriani. 

4 The Ambrosian Basilica. 

365 



366 SAINT AMBROSE 

was loudly approved by the people; then the praetorian 
prefect arrived there and began to urge us to give up the 
Portian Basilica. The people protested again, whereupon he 
left, saying that he would make a report of matters to the 
emperor. 

The following day, the Lord's day, after the lessons^ and 
sermon, I dismissed the catechumens and then went on giving 
an exposition of the Creed to several candidates for baptism 
in the baptistries of the basilica. There I was informed that 
some of the people were flocking over to the Portian Basilica 
since they had learned that officers 5 had been sent from the 
palace and were hanging up the imperial banners. 6 Yet I 
stayed at my duty and began to celebrate Mass. 

While I was offering [Mass] I learned that a certain 
Castulus, whom the Arians declared to be a priest, had been 
seized by the people as they encountered him in the public 
square. I began to weep very bitterly and to pray God pre- 
cisely at the Offertory that there would be no blood shed in a 
case involving the Church, or, at least, that it would be my 
blood which would be poured out, not alone for the salvation 
of my people but also for the unbelievers themselves. To be 
brief, I dispatched priests and deacons and rescued the man 
from harm. 

Very severe penalties 7 were decreed then and there, 8 first 
on the entire class of merchants. Consequently, during the 
holy days of the last week [of Lent], when the bonds of 
debtors are customarily loosed, chains rattled and were put 
upon the necks of innocent people, and they were taxed 200 
pounds' weight of gold 9 [to be paid] in three days' time. 
People said they would give that much, or double, if asked, 

5 decani. 

6 vela. 

1 In the form of taxes and /or imprisonment. 

8 These are the events of Monday of Holy Week. 

9 This was subsequently returned to the merchants; cf. below. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 367 

provided that they might practice their faith. The prisons, 
too, were packed with tradesmen. 

All the palace officials, the clerks, the agents of affairs, 
the attendants of various counts were ordered to avoid going 
out on the pretext that they were forbidden to take part in 
the rebellion. Men of high rank were threatened with many 
dire consequences unless they effected the surrender of the 
basilica. The persecution spread, and, had they opened their 
doors, the people seemed on the verge of breaking forth into 
every sort of abuse. 

To effect a speedy surrender of the basilica I myself was 
approached 10 by counts and tribunes who said that the 
emperor 11 was using his rights inasmuch as all property was 
under his jurisdiction. I answered that if he were asking for 
what was mine my estate, my money, or anything of this 
sort I would not resist, even though all my property belongs 
to the poor; but sacred objects are not subject to the 
jurisdiction even of the emperor. If he wants my patrimony, 
come take it; my person, I am here; do you want to drag 
me off to prison, or to death? The pleasure is mine, I will 
not shelter myself with a throng of people, nor cling to the 
altars, begging for my life. Instead, I will more gladly be 
sacrificed before the altars. 

Actually, in my heart I was frightened, since I knew that 
armed men had been sent to seize the basilica of the church; 
[I feared] that in defending the basilica bloodshed would 
occur and turn to the harm of the whole city. I kept praying 
that I would not live to see the ruin of this great city or, 
possibly, of all Italy. I dreaded the ill-will that would arise 
from the spilling of blood; I offered my own throat. Some 
tribunes of the Goths were there; I assailed them, saying: 'Is 
this why the Roman state has taken you in, to make you 

10 These are the events of Tuesday. 

11 Valentinian, under the direction o his mother Justina, who was an 
Arian. 



368 SAINT AMBROSE 

agents of a public riot? Where will you go if these lands are 
destroyed?' 

I was told to quiet the people. I retorted that it was in my 
power to arouse them, but to quell them rested with God. 
Then I said that if I was considered the trouble-maker I 
should be punished, or banished to any lonely spot on earth 
they wished. After these words, they went off, and I spent 
the entire day in the old basilica. Then I went home to sleep, 
so that, if anyone wanted to arrest me, he might find me 
ready. 

Before dawn/ 2 when I set foot out of doors, the basilica 
had been surrounded and was being occupied by soldiers. 
The soldiers were said to have told the emperor that if he 
wished to leave he would be given the opportunity; too, 
they would escort him if they saw him joining the Catholics; 
otherwise, they would join the meeting called by Ambrose. 

No one of the Arians dared appear, for there were none 
among the citizens; they consisted of a few who belonged to 
the imperial household and several Goths. Just as formerly 
they had a wagon for a dwelling, so now the church is their 
wagon. 13 Wherever that woman 14 goes, she takes along with 
her all her retinue. 

From the groaning populace I understood that the basilica 
was surrounded. But, while the lessons were being read, I 
was informed that even the new basilica was filled with the 
populace; the crowd seemed to be greater than when they 
were all free to go there, and they were clamoring for a 
reader. In short, the soldiers themselves, who appeared to be 
besieging the basilica, after learning that I had ordered them 
kept from membership in our communion, began coming 
over to our meeting. Some of the women were deeply troubled 

12 On Wednesday, 

13 A reference to the Scythian origin of the Arian Goths who formerly 
lived and held their religious meetings in wagons as they traveled 
about. 

14 Empress Justina. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 369 

when they saw them and one rushed out. But the soldiers 
declared they had come to pray, not to fight. The people 
broke into some kind of shouting. With what restraint, with 
what steadfastness, with what reliance on God did they keep 
begging that we go to that basilica! It was said that in that 
basilica, too, the people were demanding my presence. 

Then I began* the following discourse: 15 Brethren, you 
have heard the Book of Job being read which we follow 
during this solemn service and season. Even the Devil knew 
from experience that this book would be made known where 
all the power of his temptation is revealed and set forth. On 
that account he hurled himself today with greater strength. 
But, thanks be to our God who so confirmed you in faith 
and patience. I mounted the pulpit to praise one man, Job; 
I have found all of you to be Jobs whom I admire. In each of 
you Job has lived again, in each the patience and virtue of 
that holy man has shone again. For, what more timely could 
be said by Christian men than what the Holy Spirit has 
said in you today? We beg, O Augustus, we do not battle. 
We are not afraid, but we are begging. It befits Christians 
to hope for the tranquility of peace and not to check the 
steadfastness of faith and truth when faced with danger of 
death. The Lord is our Head who will save those who hope 
in Him. 16 

But let us come to the lessons before us. You see, permission 
is granted to the Devil to be a tempter 17 in order that the 
good may be tried. The Devil envies the progress of the good; 
he tempts them in various ways. He tempted Job in his 
possessions; he tempted him in his children; he tempted him 
in pain of body. The strong man is tempted in his own body, 
the weak man in another's. And he wanted to take from me 
the riches which I have in you, and he desired to scatter this 

15 The full text of Ambrose's sermon is here given in the six following 
paragraphs. 

16 Cf. Ps. 16.7. 

17 Cf. Job 1.12. 



3 70 SAINT AMBROSE 

inheritance of your tranquility. He longed to snatch you 
away, too, my very good sons, for whom I daily renew the 
Sacrifice. He was trying to drag you into the ruins of public 
disorder. I have, therefore, experienced two kinds of tempta- 
tions. And perhaps because the Lord God knows that I am 
weak, He still has not given him [the Devil] power over my 
body. Although I make it my will and make the offering, 
He judges me still unequal to this struggle, and He tries me 
with various labors. And Job did not begin but ended with 
this struggle. 

Moreover, Job was tried by accumulated tidings of evils; 
he was even tried by his wife who said : 'Speak a word against 
God, and die.' 18 You see what great disturbances are suddenly 
at hand Goths, armed men, heathens, fining of mer- 
chants, punishment of saints. You see what is asked when 
this command is given: Hand over the basilica that is: 
'Speak a word against God, and die, 5 do not merely speak a 
word opposing God, but make yourself an opponent of God. 
The order is: Hand over the altars of God. 

We are hard-pressed by the royal edicts, but we are 
strengthened by the words of Scripture, which answered: 
'You have spoken like one of the senseless. 319 And that was 
no slight temptation, because we know that those temptations 
are more severe which are brought about through women. 
Indeed, through Eve Adam was deceived, and thus did it 
come about that he departed from the divine commands. 
When he learned his mistake and was conscious of the sin 
within himself, he wished to hide but could not. And so God 
said to him: 'Adam, where art thou?' 20 that is, what were 
you before? Where now have you begun to stay? Where did 
I put you? Whither have you wandered? You realize that you 
are naked because you have lost the robes of good faith. 

18 Cf. Job 2.9; the Vulgate is 'Bless God, and die.' 

19 Job 2.10. 

20 Cf. Gen. 3.6,9. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 371 

Those are leaves with which you now seek to cover yourself. 
You have repudiated the fruit, wishing to hide under the 
leaves of the law, but you are betrayed. You desired to leave 
the Lord your God for one woman, and you are fleeing One 
whom formerly you wished to behold. With one woman you 
have preferred to hide yourself, to abandon the Mirror of the 
world, the abode of paradise, the grace of Christ.' 

Why should I tell of how Jezabel severely persecuted 
Elias, 21 and Herodias caused John the Baptist to be put to 
death? 22 Individual women persecuted individual men, but 
in so far as my merits are far less, so are these trials of mine 
heavier. My strength is weaker, my danger greater. Women's 
fortune changes, their hatreds are replaced by others, their 
contrivances vary, they are following their elders and making 
a pretext [of protecting] the king from harm. What reason 
is there for such serious trials against a mere worm, except 
that they are persecuting not me but the Church? 

Then the command is given: 'Hand over the basilica.' I 
answer: 'It is not lawful for me to hand it over, nor is it 
expedient for you, O Emperor, to receive it. If you cannot 
rightly violate the house of a private individual, do you think 
that the house of God can be appropriated?' It is alleged that 
all things are permitted the emperor, that everything is his. 
To this I reply: 'Do not burden yourself with thinking that 
you have imperial power over things which are divine. Do 
not exalt yourself, but, if you wish to be emperor for a long 
time, be subject to God. Scripture says: "What things are 
God's to God, what are Caesar's to Caesar." 23 Palaces belong 
to the emperor, churches to the bishop. You have been given 
authority over public edifices, not over sacred ones.' Again it 
is said the order came from the emperor: % too, ought to 
have a basilica.' I answered : e lt is not lawful for you to have 

21 Cf. 3 Kings 19.1,2. 

22 Cf. Matt. 14.3-12. 

23 Matt. 22.21. 



372 SAINT AMBROSE 

one. What have you to do with an adulteress? She is an 
adulteress who is not joined to Christ by lawful union !' 

While I was treating of these matters, word was brought to 
me that the royal hangings had been gathered up, the basilica 
was filling with people, and they were demanding my 
presence. At once I turned my discourse in that direction, 
saying: How lofty and deep are the sayings of the Holy 
Spirit ! As you remember, brethren, we responded with great 
sorrow of soul to the words read at Matins: 'O God, the 
heathen have invaded thine inheritance. 324 In reality, the 
heathen have invaded, and even more than the heathen have 
invaded. For the Goths have invaded, and men of different 
nations; they invaded with arms and surrounded and seized 
the basilica. We lamented this, being ignorant of your great- 
ness, but our want of wisdom drew forth this [lament]. 

The heathen have invaded, and truly they have invaded 
your inheritance, for those who invaded as heathen have 
become Christians. Those who came to invade the inheritance 
became co-heirs of God. I have as defenders those whom I 
thought to be enemies; I possess as allies those whom I 
thought to be adversaries. That is fulfilled which David the 
Prophet sang of the Lord Jesus: 'His abode is in peace/ and 
'There he has broken the sides of the bows, the shield, the 
sword and the war!' 25 Whose task is this, whose work but 
Yours, O Lord Jesus? You saw armed men coming to Your 
temple, people groaning for this reason and coming in crowds 
that they might not seem to be handing over God's basilica, 
and, on the other hand, the soldiers were under orders to do 
violence. Death was before my eyes, but that amid these 
events madness should be given no right You put Yourself 
in our midst, O Lord, and made both one. 26 You quieted the 

24 Ps. 78.1. 

25 Ps. 75.3,4. 

26 Cf. Eph. 2.14. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 373 

armed men, saying, no doubt : 'If you rush to arms, if those 
shut up in my temple are disturbed, "What profit will be 
from my blood?" ' Thanks be to You, Christ ! Not a legate 
or messenger, but 'Thou, O Lord, hast made safe thy people.* 
Thou hast tossed away my sackcloth, and thou hast girt me 
with gladness.' 27 

These things I said and marveled that the feeling of the 
emperor could have grown gentle through the zeal of the 
soldiers, the entreaty of the counts, and the prayers of the 
people. Meanwhile the message came to me that an envoy 
had been sent to bring me a decree. I withdrew a little and 
he acquainted me with the decree. 'What,' he said, 'is your 
idea in acting contrary to the emperor's wish?' 'I do not 
know his wish,' I answered, 'nor am I certain of what I have 
done in disobedience.' 'Why,' he asked, 'did you assign 
priests 28 to the basilica? If you are a usurper, I want to know 
how to prepare myself against you/ I replied, saying that I 
had done nothing to harm the church, that when I had 
heard that the basilica was besieged by soldiers, I only gave 
free vent to my lament, and when many urged me to go 
there I stated : C I cannot hand over the basilica, yet I cannot 
wage a fight.' And after I learned that the royal hangings 
had been taken away 29 when the people demanded that I 
go there, I sent some priests. I was unwilling to go myself, 
but I told them : In Christ I believe that the emperor himself 
will join us. 

If these seem to be the acts of a usurper, I have weapons, 
but only in the name of Christ. I can offer my life. Why 
does he delay striking if he thinks I am a usurper. Under 
the Old Testament imperial power was bestowed by priests, 
not despotically claimed, and it is commonly said that 
emperors aspired to the priesthood rather than priests to the 



27 Ps. 29.10; 27.9; 29.12. 

28 presbyteri. 

29 By the emperor's soldiers. 



374 SAINT AMBROSE 

imperial power. Christ fled lest He be made a king. 30 We 
have a power of our own. The power of the priest is weakness. 
He [St. Paul] said: 'When I am weak, then I am strong.' 31 
He should take care not to make himself a usurper, he against 
whom God has not raised up an adversary. Maximus does 
not say that I am a usurper of Valentinian, though he 
complained that through the intervention of my delegation he 
was unable to come to Italy. I said, too, that bishops were 
never usurpers but often had suffered from usurpers. 

That whole day was spent in sorrow on our part. The 
royal hangings were torn by children in their play. I could 
not return home because soldiers were stationed around the 
basilica, keeping it under guard. We recited the Psalms with 
the brethren in the smaller chapel of the church. 32 

The next day 33 the Book of Jonas was read according to 
custom, and when it was finished I began this sermon: 34 
Brethren, a book has been read in which it is prophesied 
that sinners shall return to penance. It is understood to mean 
that they may hope for the future in the present. I added 
that the just man had been willing to receive even blame, so 
as not to see or prophesy destruction for the city. And because 
that sentence was mournful, he grew sad when the gourd 
withered. God said to the Prophet: 'Are you sad over the 
gourd?' Jonas answered: 'I am sad.' 35 The Lord said that 
if he was grieving because the gourd had withered, how 
much greater should his care be for the salvation of so many 
people ! And, in fact, he did away with the destruction which 
had been prepared for all the city. 

Word came promptly that the emperor had ordered the 
soldiers to withdraw from the basilica, and fines which had 
been levied on the merchants were being returned to them. 

30 Cf. John 6.15. 

31 2 Cor. 12.10. 

32 This event is also described by St. Augustine (Con/. 9.7) . 

33 Thursday o Holy Week. 

34 Another sermon is summarized here. 

35 Cf. Jonas 4.7,10. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER * 375 

What, then, was the joy of all the people! What cheering 
from the whole crowd! What thanksgiving! It was the day 
on which the Lord had delivered Himself for us, the day when 
penance in the Church is ended. Soldiers vied with one 
another in spreading the good news ; rushing to the altars, and 
kissing them, they gave token of peace. Then I knew that 
God had smitten the early worm so that the whole city 
might be saved. 

These events took place, and would that they were now at 
an end! But the words of the emperor, full of turmoil, point 
to greater disturbances. I am called a usurper; even worse 
than a usurper. For when the counts begged the emperor to 
give in to the Church, and said that they did this at the request 
of the soldiers, he answered: c lf Ambrose ordered you, you 
will give me to him in chains. 3 After such a speech, just 
think what is coming! All were horrified at this statement, 
but some of his men are urging him on. 

Finally, too, Calligonus, the grand chamberlain, dared to 
address me in this fashion: While I live, do you treat 
Valentinian with contempt? I will take your life !' I answered: 
May God grant you to fulfill what you threaten, for I shall 
suffer what bishops suffer, and you will act as eunuchs act. 336 
May God turn them from the Church and direct their 
weapons all on me, and slake their thirst with my blood. 

36 The, entire description of Ambrose's encounter with Valentinian is 
comparable to his later conduct before the tyrant Maximus at Trier. 
See Letter 10. 



376 SAINT AMBROSE 

61. To the lady his sister, dearer than life and eyes, a brother 
(June 20, 386) 

Ordinarily, I do not leave your Holiness unacquainted 
with the events taking place here in your absence. You should 
know, then, that we have found some holy martyrs. When I 
had consecrated the basilica, many persons with one accord 
began appealing to me, saying: 'Consecrate this as you did 
the Roman basilica.' { I will,' I said, 'if I find relics of martyrs.' 
And at once I was seized, as it were, with a great presentiment 
of some sort of divine sign. 1 

In short, the Lord bestowed His favor. Even the clergy 
were afraid when I bade them clear away the ground in the 
spot before the grating of Sts. Felix and Nabor. I found 
encouraging signs. And when certain persons were brought 
forward to have my hands laid on them [in blessing], the 
holy martyrs began driving away [the evil spirit], so that 
before I had said anything one woman 2 was seized and 
thrown forward at the holy burial place. We found two men 
of wondrous stature, such as ancient ages bore. The bones 
were all intact and there was much blood. 3 A great throng 
of people was there during these two days. In short, we 
arranged everything in orderly fashion. As it was close to 
evening, we transferred them to the basilica of Fausta. All 
that night watch was kept and blessings were given. The 
next day we transferred them to that which is called the 
Ambrosian Basilica. While they were being transferred a 
blind man was cured. My sermon to the people was as 
follows : 

When I consider the overflowing and unprecedented num- 
ber in this gathering of yours, and the gift of divine grace 

1 Augustine also describes this event (Con/. 9.7; De civ. Dei 22.8) ; cf. 
also his C. Don. Epist. 19. 

2 The editors read una f not urna as in the mss. 

3 Some rationalists maintain that Ambrose found prehistoric burials in 
which bones were often covered with red ochre. Cf. Dudden, pp. 306- 
307. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 377 

which has shone forth in the holy martyrs, I confess I feel 
unequal to this task, nor can we express with words what we 
can scarcely understand with the mind or grasp with the eye. 
But when the regular reading of the holy Scriptures began, 
the Holy Spirit who spoke by the Prophets bestowed His 
gift so that we might utter something worthy of so great a 
throng and your hopes and the merits of the holy martyrs. 

'The heavens declare the glory of God.' 4 When this psalm 
is read, the thought occurs that it is not the material elements 
but heavenly graces which seem to offer worthy praise 
to God. Yet, today, it is evident from the chance reading of 
the lesson what heavens declare the glory of God. See on my 
right hand, see on my left, these most sacred relics ! See these 
men of heavenly manner of life! Look at the rewards of a 
great soul! These are the heavens which declare the glory of 
God; these are the works of His hands which the firmament 
proclaims. It was not the charm of the world but the grace 
of God at work which brought them to the firmament of the 
most holy passion. In fact, long ago, their characters and 
virtues were tested and bore witness of them because they 
remained firm against the hazards of this world. 

Paul was a heaven when he said: Our citizenship is in 
heaven.' James and John were heavens, and for this reason 
they are called 'Sons of Thunder. 36 In fact, John, like heaven, 
saw the Word with God. 7 The Lord Jesus Himself was ^t 
heaven of everlasting light when He revealed the glory of 
God, but a glory which no one had beheld before. And so He 
said: 'No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten 
Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.' 8 
If you also are seeking for the works of God's hands, hear 
Job when he says: 'The spirit of God who made me.' 9 Thus 

4 PS. 18.2. 

5 Phil. 3.20. 

6 Mark 3.17. 

7 Cf. John 1.1. 

8 John 1.18. 

9 Job 33.4. 



378 SAINT AMBROSE 

strengthened against the temptations of the Devil, he held 
the path of constancy without stumbling. But let us proceed 
to the remaining verses. 

'Day,' it is said, c unto day heralds the message.' 10 See 
the true days which no mist of night makes false. See the 
true days of full light and brilliance everlasting which herald 
the work of God, not with foolish talk, but firm in the 
confession of Him from the innermost heart, persevering in 
martyrdom. 

Another psalm which was read says: 11 'Who is as the Lord 
our God who dwelleth on high, and looketh down on the 
low things in heaven and in earth? 3 God, no doubt, casts 
His eyes on the lowly, He who laid bare the relics of the 
holy martyrs of His Church, lying hid under the lowly turf, 
their souls in heaven, their bodies in the earth: 'Raising up 
the needy man out of the dust, lifting up the poor man out 
of the dunghill,' placing him, as you see, with the princes of 
his people. Whom are we to think of as the princes of his 
people if not the holy martyrs in whose number long ago 
the unknown Protase and Gervase were given place? They 
now cause the Church at Milan, barren of martyrs, now the 
mother of many children, to rejoice in the glory and examples 
of their suffering. 

This should not be unlike the true faith: 'Day unto day 
heralds the message,' 12 soul unto soul, life unto life, resurrec- 
tion unto resurrection. 'And night unto night makes it 
known,' that is, flesh unto flesh whose suffering reveals to 
all its true knowledge of faith. Those nights are good, those 
nights are clear in which there are stars, Tor as star differs 
from star in glory, so also with the resurrection of the dead.' 13 

With good reason do people call this the resurrection of 
the martyrs. But I will see whether the martyrs arose for 

10 Ps. 18.3. 

11 Ps. 112.5-8. 

12 Ps. 18.2. 

13 1 Cor. 15.41,42. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 



379 



their advantage or for ours. You know, and, in fact, have 
seen many persons cleansed of the evil spirits. And many 
who touched the clothing of the saints with their hands were 
rid of sicknesses which troubled them. Miracles from times 
past are beginning anew as when at the coming of the Lord 
Jesus great grace poured itself upon the earth. You have seen 
how many have been healed by the mere shadow of the 
bodies of the saints. How many handkerchiefs have been 
passed about! How many garments which were laid upon 
the sacred relics are now said to possess healing power in 
their very touch! Everyone is glad to touch the outer cloth 
and touching it he will be cured. 

Thanks be to you, O Lord Jesus, for having aroused the 
spirit of the martyrs at this time when Your Church needs 
greater protection. Let everyone know the kind of defenders 
I need, those who can fight back but are not wont to attack. 
These I have secured for you, O holy people, so that they 
will bring help to all and harm to none. I am soliciting 
defenders like these, I do not have soldiers like these soldiers, 
that is, who are not of the world, but soldiers of Christ. 14 
With such as these, I fear no ill-will; the greater the number 
of them, the safer are my defenses. And I hope for the 
protection from them for the very ones who grudge them to 
me. Let them come and see my bodyguards. I do not deny 
that I am surrounded with such arms: 'Those are strong in 
chariots, these in horses, but we will be great in the name of 
the Lord our God. 315 

The text of holy Scripture tells how Eliseus spoke to his 
servant who was afraid when he was surrounded by the 
army of the Syrians and bade him not to fear: 'Because,' he 

14 St. Charles Borromeo inscribed Ambrose's words, 'Tales ego ambio 
defensoresf on a banner of Sts. Gervase and Protase, which was carried 
through the streets of Milan during the great plague of 1576-1577. 
This is but one instance of many, illustrating Charles' devotion to his 
saintly predecessor in the see of Milan. 

15 Ps. 19.8. 



380 SAINT AMBROSE 

said, 'there are more with us than against us.' 16 To prove this 
he prayed that the eyes of Giezi be opened, and, when they 
were opened, he [Giezi] saw countless hosts of angels. 
Although we cannot see them, we feel that they are present. 
Our eyes were closed as long as the bodies of the saints lay 
hidden under cover. The Lord has opened our eyes; we have 
seen His troops which have so often protected us. Formerly, 
we did not see them, although we had them. Then, because 
we were afraid, the Lord said, as it were: 'Behold the great 
martyrs whom I have given you.' So with our eyes unsealed 
we look upon the glory of the Lord which took place in the 
past in the sufferings of the martyrs and is present in their 
works. Brethren, we have escaped no slight load of shame, 
for we had patrons and did not know it. We have found this 
one thing in which we appear to surpass our elders we 
have regained the knowledge of the saintly martyrs which 
they had lost. 

The glorious relics are rescued from an inglorious tomb; 
the trophies are exhibited to heaven; the tomb drips with 
blood; the marks of the. bleeding triumph appear; the 
undisturbed relics are found on the spot in perfect order, 
with the head torn from the shoulders. Old men say now that 
they used to hear other names given to these martyrs and 
that they have read their inscription. The city which had 
carried off the martyrs of others had lost her own. Although 
this is the gift of God, I cannot deny the grace which the 
Lord Jesus has granted in the time of my bishopric. And 
because I myself am not worthy to be a martyr, I have 
secured these martyrs for you. 

Let the triumphant victims take their place where Christ is 
the victim. Let Him be above the altar who suffered for all; 
let them be beneath the altar who were redeemed by His 
suffering. This is the spot that I had destined for myself, 
because it is fitting that a bishop rest where he was wont to 

16 4 Kings 6.16. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 381 

offer the Holy Sacrifice. But I yield the right-hand portion 
to the sacred victims, that place is owed the martyrs. Let us 
therefore bury the sacred relics, carrying them to worthy 
resting places, and let us celebrate the entire day with the 
worship of faith. 

The people shouted that the burial of the martyrs should 
be postponed to the Lord's day. Finally, however, it was 
agreed to have it take place the following day. On that day 
the sermon which I gave to the people was like this: 

Yesterday I explained the verse: 'Day unto day heralds 
the message,' in so far as the range of my ability carried me. 
Today, holy Scripture seems not only to have prophesied in 
the past but also to be doing so in the present. For, when I 
see the throngs of your Holiness continuing day and night, 
the words of the Prophet's song declare that these days, 
yesterday and today, are those of which it is most fittingly 
said: 'Day unto day heralds the message,' and those nights 
of which it is very suitably calculated that 'night unto night 
makes it known.' For what except the Word of God have you 
heralded for two days from the bottom of your hearts and 
given proof that you have a knowledge of the faith? 

Yet, the usual ones grudge you this celebration. And 
because they cannot understand your celebration with their 
envious minds they hate the reason for it. They reach such 
folly as to say that there are no merits in the martyrs, although 
even the evil spirits admit them. But this is not strange. 
Indeed, so great is the lack of faith of the unbelieving that 
the confession of the Devil is more tolerable. For the Devil 
said: 'Jesus, Son of the living God, why have you come to 
torment us before the time?' 17 And when the Jews heard 
this they still denied that He was the Son of God. Now, you 
have also heard the demons crying out and admitting to the 
martyrs that they cannot bear their punishment, saying: 
'Why have you come to torment us so severely?' And the 

17 Matt. 8.29. 



382 SAINT AMBROSE 

Arians say : These are not martyrs, nor can they torment the 
Devil, nor free anyone,' although the torments are attested by 
the words of the demons themselves, and the benefits of the 
martyrs are disclosed by the cures of those who were healed 
and the testimony of those who were set free. 

They say that the blind man has not been given his sight, 
but he does not say he was not healed. He says: I see, I who 
did not see. 3 He says: C I have ceased to be blind, 5 and he 
proves it by the fact. They deny the benefit who cannot deny 
the fact. This man is well known, 18 for he was an employee 
of the state when he was well, a man named Severus, a 
butcher by trade. He gave up his employment when his 
affliction befell him. He calls to witness the men whose kind- 
ness formerly supported him; he summons those as witnesses 
of his healing whom he used to have as witnesses and judges 
of his blindness. He cries out, saying that when he touched 
the hem of the martyrs 3 garment in which the sacred relics 
were covered light was restored to him. 

Does this not resemble the account we read in the Gospel? 
We praise the power of the one Author; it makes no difference 
whether it is a work or a gift, since He gives a gift in His 
work and He works in His gift. What He enjoins others to do, 
this His name works in the works of others. We read, there- 
fore, in the Gospel that the Jews, when they saw the 
restoration of health in the blind man, asked proof from his 
parents. They asked them: c How is it your son sees? 3 when 
he said: 'Whereas I was blind, now I see.' 19 In this case, too, 
the man says: I was blind and now I see. Ask others if you 
do not believe me. Ask strangers so that you will not think 
that my parents are under agreement to me.' Their obstinacy 
is more hateful than that of the Jews. When they were in 

18 See Augustine, De civ. Dei 22.8; Serm. 381.1; Retr. 13.7. 

19 John 9.25. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 383 

doubt, they asked the parents. These ask in secret and openly 
deny. No longer do they disbelieve the work, but the Author. 

But what is it, I ask, which they do not believe? Is it 
whether persons can be healed by martyrs? This is to fail to 
believe in Christ, for He Himself said: 'And greater than 
these you will do. 320 Or [do they ask whether persons can be 
healed] by those martyrs whose merits for a long time were 
vigorous, whose bodies were found long ago? Here now I 
ask: Do they grudge me or the holy martyrs? Can I perform 
any miracles? Can anything be done by my work, in my 
name? Why, then, do they grudge me what is not mine? If 
they grudge the martyrs (for it still remains that, if they do 
not grudge me, they seem to grudge the martyrs), they show 
that the martyrs were of another faith than what they believe. 
For no other reason would they envy their works unless they 
realized that the faith in them was other than their own, that 
faith which was established by the tradition of the fathers, 
which the devils themselves cannot deny, although the Arians 
do so. 

We have heard those who had hands laid on them say 
today that no one can be saved unless he believes in the 
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that he is dead and 
buried who denies the Holy Spirit and does not believe in 
the omnipotence of the Trinity. The Devil admits this, but 
the Arians do not wish to profess it. The Devil says : 'Let him 
who denies the Godhead of the Holy Spirit be tormented as 
he was by the martyrs.' 

I do not accept the Devil's testimony, but I do accept his 
confession. The Devil spoke unwillingly under duress and 
torment. Torture exacts that which wickedness suppresses. 
Although the Devil yielded to blows, the Arians do not know 
how to yield. How like Pharao have they suffered many 

20 John 14.12. 



384 SAINT AMBROSE 

misfortunes and are hardened by their misfortunes! The 
Devil said those words which we read: 'I know who thou art, 
thou art the Son of the living God.' 21 The Jews said: 'We 
do not know who he is.' 22 The devils said today and yesterday 
and last night: 'We know that you are martyrs/ And the 
Arians say: 'We do not know, we do not want to know, we 
do not want to believe. 5 The devils say to the martyrs: 'You 
have come to destroy us. 3 The Arians say: 'The torments of 
the devils are not real; they are feigned and empty mockery.' 
I have heard of many things being imagined, but no one 
could ever feign this and pretend that he was a devil. What 
is it which we see so disturbs them on whom a hand is laid? 
Where is there room for deceit? Where is there a trace of 
pretense? 

Yet I do not make use of the statement of the demons as a 
support for the martyrs. Their holy suffering is proved by its 
benefits. It has judges, but they are those who have been 
cleansed; it has witnesses, but they are those who were set 
free. The proof of those who came here ill is worth more, 
for their healing attests it. The proof which blood sends forth 
is stronger, for blood has a piercing voice which reaches from 
earth to heaven, as you read that God said: 'The blood of 
your brother cries out to me.' 23 Here blood cries out by 
disclosing its color; blood cries out by publishing its work; 
blood cries out by the triumph of its suffering. Your petition 
has been granted to postpone until today yesterday's burial of 
relics. 

21 Mark 1.24. 

22 John 9.29. 

23 Gen. 4.10. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 385 

62. A brother to his sister (December, 388) 

You condescended to write me saying that your Holiness 
was still anxious because I had written that I was anxious. I 
am surprised that you did not receive my letter in which I 
wrote that peace had flowed back upon me. For, when the 
report came that the synagogue of the Jews and an assembly 
place of the Valentinians had been burned 1 at the instigation 
of a bishop, the order was made, while I was at Aquileia, for 
the bishop to rebuild the synagogue, and the monks who had 
burned the Valentinians' building to be punished. Thus, when 
I accomplished nothing by frequent attempts, I wrote and 
sent a letter to the emperor, and when he came to church 2 I 
delivered this sermon: 

It is written in the book of the Prophet: 'Take to thyself 
a rod of a nut tree/ 3 so we must consider why the Lord said 
this to the Prophet, for it is not written without a purpose, 
since we also read in the Pentateuch that the nut tree of 
Aaron, the priest, blossomed after it had been laid away for 
a long while. By the rod he appears to point out that the 
prophetic or priestly power should be straightforward, so that 
it may counsel not what is pleasant but what is expedient. 

Indeed, the Prophet is bidden to take a nut tree branch 
because the fruit of that aforesaid tree has a bitter rind and 
a hard shell, but a good fruit within; thus, in imitation of it, 
the Prophet also may utter bitter and hard sayings, and be 
unafraid to give voice to harsh teaching. The priest, too, 
may do the same, because his teaching, bitter though it may 
seem to some persons for a while and long laid away in the 
ears of hypocrites, yet, after a time, when it seems to have 
dried up, it blossoms forth like Aaron's rod. 

1 At Callinicum, modern Ar-Rakka, on the Euphrates. Cf. above, Letter 
2, to Theodosius. 

2 Paulinus (Vit. 22-23) says that Ambrose wrote from Aquileia to 
Theodosius, who was at Milan, and then later preached the sermon in 
his own Cathedral at Milan. 

3 Jer. 1.11. 



386 SAINT AMBROSE 

Therefore the Apostle says: 'What is your wish? Shall I 
come to you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of 
meekness?' 4 He first mentioned the rod and, as it were, struck 
with the nut-tree rod those going astray, so that he might 
comfort them later in the spirit of meekness. Thus did 
meekness restore one whom the rod had deprived of the 
heavenly sacraments. He also gave similar commands to his 
disciple, saying: 'Reprove, entreat, rebuke.' 5 Two of these are 
harsh, one is mild; but they are harsh only that they may 
soften, as persons, suffering from an excess of gall, find the 
bitterness of food or drink sweet, and, on the other hand, 
sweet foods bitter; thus, when the soul is wounded, it grows 
worse under the warmth of pleasurable flattery, and is again 
put in order by the bitterness of correction. 

These thoughts may be gathered from the reading of the 
Prophet. Let us also consider what is contained in the reading 
of the Gospel: 'One of the Pharisees asked the Lord Jesus to 
dine with him; so he went into the house of the Pharisee, 
and reclined at table. And behold, a woman in the town, 
who was a sinner, upon learning that Jesus was at table in 
the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment; 
and standing behind him at his feet, she began to bathe his 
feet with her tears.' And then I read on to the words : 'Thy 
faith has saved thee; go in peace.' 6 How simple, I went on to 
say, in words, how deep in meaning is the reading of the 
Gospel! Therefore, since they are the words of the great 
Counselor, 7 let us consider their depth. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ decided that men could be bound 
and won over to what is right more readily by love than by 
fear, and that love does more for correction than does fear. 
And so when He came, born of a virgin, He sent ahead His 

4 I Cor. 4.21. 

5 2 Tim. 4.2. 

6 Luke 7.36-38,50. 

7 Isa. 9.6. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 387 

grace to forgive sin in baptism in order to make us more 
pleasing to Himself. Then, if we repay Him by services 
befitting grateful men, He declared in this woman that there 
shall be to all men the reward of grace itself. If He had 
forgiven only our first debts, He would have seemed more 
cautious than generous, more intent on our correction than 
magnanimous in His reward. It is only the cunning of a 
narrow mind which tries to entice, but it is fitting that God 
lead on with an increase of His grace those whom He has 
invited by grace. So He first bestows on us a gift in baptism, 
and later He is most generous with His gifts to those who 
serve Him well. These benefits of Christ, therefore, are both 
incentives and rewards of virtue. 

Let no one be surprised if we use the word 'creditor.' 8 
We were formerly under a harsh creditor who could not be 
satisfied or fully paid except by the death of the debtor. 
The Lord Jesus came; He saw us bound by a heavy debt. 
No one could pay his debt with his inheritance of innocence ; 
I was able to take nothing of mine with which to free 
myself; He gave me a new kind of acquittal, enabling me to 
get another creditor, because I had not the means of dis- 
charging my debt. Yet, not nature, but sin, had made us" 
debtors; by our sins we contracted heavy debts so that we 
who were free became bound, for a debtor is one who uses 
any of a creditor's money. Sin is from the Devil. That 
wicked one, as it were, has these treasures among his pos- 
sessions, for as Christ's riches are virtues, so the Devil's pos- 
sessions are crimes. He had reduced the human race to 
everlasting captivity under a heavy debt of inherited liability, 
which our forefather, being under debt, had transmitted by 
legacy to his posterity. The Lord Jesus came; He offered His 
death for the death of all; He poured out His blood for the 
blood of everyone. 

8 A reference to Luke 7.41, which Ambrose has not quoted in full in 
this letter. 



388 SAINT AMBROSE 

We, then, have changed our creditor; we have not entirely 
escaped, or, rather, we have escaped, but the debt remains, 
while the interest is canceled, the Lord Jesus saying: To 
them that are bound: Come forth. And to them that are in 
prison: Go forth/ 9 for your sins have been forgiven. He has 
forgiven all and there is no one whom He has not set free. 
For it is written that He forgave e all your sins, canceling the 
decree against us/ 10 Why, then, do we hold decrees of others 
and wish to make exactions of others, while we enjoy our 
own freedom? He who forgave all required of all that each 
forgive others, remembering his own forgiveness. 

See to it that you do not get into a worse state as creditor 
than you did as debtor, like the man in the Gospel whose 
master forgave his whole debt, but who began later to demand 
of his fellow servant what he had not paid, so that the 
master in anger exacted from him with great severity what 
he had forgiven him before. Let us beware of this happening 
to us, that by not forgiving what is owed to us we be held 
responsible for what we owe, for it is written in the words of 
the Lord Jesus : 'So also my heavenly Father will do to you, 
if you do not each forgive your brothers from your hearts.' 11 
Let us who have been forgiven much forgive a little, and 
let us realize that we will be more acceptable to God the 
more we forgive, for we are more pleasing to God the more 
we have been forgiven. 

Then, when the Pharisee was asked by the Lord : 'Which 
of them loved him more?' He answered: 'He, I suppose, to 
whom he forgave more.' And the Lord replied: Thou hast 
judged rightly/ 12 

The Pharisee's judgment is praised, but his affection is 
disapproved. He judges well of others, but he does not believe 
what he thinks of others. You hear a Jew praise the Church's 



9 Isa. 49.8. 

10 Col. 2.13,14. 

11 Cf. Matt. 18.27-35. 

12 Luke 7.42,43. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 389 

discipline, proclaim its true grace, honor the Church's priests; 
you ask him to believe, but he refuses, so that what he praises 
in us he himself does not follow. It was not ample praise he 
heard from Christ: 'Thou hast judged rightly,' for Cain also 
made his offerings rightly, but did not divide rightly, and so 
God said to him: 'If thou oflferest rightly, but do not divide 
rightly, thou has sinned, be still.' 13 In like manner this man 
offered rightly, because he judged that Christ ought to be 
more loved by Christians, for He forgave us many sins, but 
he did not divide rightly, because he thought that the One 
who forgave men their sins could be ignorant of men's sins. 

Therefore He says to Simon: 'Dost thou see this woman? 
I came into thy house; thou gavest me no water for my feet; 
but she has bathed my feet with tears.' 14 We are all the one 
body of Christ, whose head is God, whose members we 
are; 15 some perhaps are the eyes, like the Prophets; others, 
teeth, as the Apostles who passed the food of the Gospel 
teaching into our hearts, and so it is written: 'His eyes are 
bright with wine, his teeth whiter than milk.' 16 His hands are 
those who are seen carrying out good works. Those who 
bestow the strength of nourishment upon the poor are His 
belly. Some are His feet, and would that I were worthy to be 
His heel! He pours water on the feet of Christ who forgives 
the lowly their sins, and, in setting free the common man, he 
bathes the feet of Christ. 

He pours water on Christ's feet who cleanses his conscience 
from the filth of sin, for Christ walks in the hearts of each 
and every one. Beware of having a soiled conscience and 
beginning to defile the feet of Christ. Beware of His stum- 
bling on a thorn of wickedness in you, for this would hurt His 
heel as He walks in you. This is why the Pharisee poured no 
water on Christ's feet, because he had not a soul free from 

13 Gen. 4.7. 

14 Luke 7.44. 

15 Cf. 1 Cor. 12.12. 

16 Cf. Gen. 49.12. 



390 SAINT AMBROSE 

the filth of unbelief. And how could he wash his conscience 
if he had not received the water of Christ? But the Church 
has this water and the Church has tears, the water of baptism, 
the tears of penance. Faith which weeps over former sins 
bewares of sinning anew. Therefore, Simon the Pharisee, who 
had no water, had, of course, no^ tears. How could he have 
tears if he did not do penance, for, not believing in Christ, 
he had no tears? If he had had them, he would have bathed 
his eyes so that he could see Christ whom he did not see 
although he was at table with Him. If he had seen Him, 
surely he would never have doubted His power. 

The Pharisee had no hair, since he could not recognize the 
Nazarite, but the Church has it, for she sought the Nazarite. 
Hairs are considered among the superfluities of the body, but, 
if they are anointed, they give forth a good perfume and are 
an ornament to the head; if they are not anointed with oil, 
they are a burden. Thus riches are a burden if you do not 
know how to use them, if you do not sprinkle them with the 
perfume of Christ. But if you feed the poor, and wash their 
wounds, and cleanse their filth, you have indeed wiped the 
feet of Christ. 

'Thou gavest me no kiss, but she, from the moment she 
entered, has not ceased to kiss my feet.' 17 A kiss is a mark of 
love. How, then, can a Jew have a kiss, who has not known 
peace, who has not received peace from Christ when He 
said: 'My peace I give you, my peace I leave unto you/ 18 
The synagogue has no kiss, but the Church has, for she waited 
and loved and said: 'Let him kiss me with the kiss of his 
mouth.' 19 She wished with His kiss to quench gradually the 
burning of the long desire which had grown with longing 
for the Lord's coming; she wished to satisfy her thirst with 
this boon. Therefore, the holy Prophet says : 'Thou wilt open 

17 Luke 7.43. 

18 John 14.27. 

19 Cant. 1.1. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 391 

my mouth, and it shall declare thy praise. 320 One who praises 
the Lord Jesus gives Him a kiss; one who praises surely 
believes. David himself says: 'I trusted, even when I spoke/ 21 
and above: 'Let my mouth be full of thy praise, and let me 
sing thy glory.' 22 

The same Scripture teaches you of the infusion of special 
grace, how he gives a kiss to Christ who receives the Spirit, 
the holy Prophet saying: 'I opened my mouth, and drew in 
the Spirit. 523 He kisses Christ who confesses Him: Tor with 
the heart a man believes unto justice, and with the mouth 
profession is made unto salvation.' 24 He truly kisses Christ's 
feet who, in reading the Gospel, recognizes the acts of the 
Lord Jesus and admires them with holy affection, and so 
with a reverent kiss, as it were, he caresses the footprints of 
the Lord as He walks. We kiss Christ, therefore, in the kiss 
of Communion: 'Let him who reads understand.' 25 

How could a Jew have this kiss? For he who did not 
believe in His coming did not believe in His passion. How 
does he believe that He suffered whom he did not believe to 
have come? The Pharisee, therefore, had no kiss except 
perhaps that of the traitor Judas. But even Judas did not 
have a kiss, and when he wished to show the Jews the 
promised kiss as a sign of betrayal the Lord says to him: 
'Judas, dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss? 526 that 
is, you are offering Me a kiss, and you do not have the love 
of a kiss; you offer a kiss, and you know not the mystery of a 
kiss. It is not the kiss of the lips which is sought, but of the 
heart and soul. 

But you say: He kissed the Lord. Yes, he kissed with his 

20 Ps. 70.8. 

21 Ps. 115.10. 

22 Ps. 70.8. 

23 Ps. 118.131. 

24 Rom. 10.10. 

25 Matt. 24.15. 

26 Luke 22.48. 



392 SAINT AMBROSE 

lips. This kiss the Jewish people have, and so it is written: 
'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far 
from me. 527 Therefore, one who has not faith and love has 
not a kiss, for with a kiss the strength of love is impressed. 
Where there is not love, there is not faith, there is not 
tenderness, and what sweetness of kisses can there be? 

But the Church does not cease to kiss Christ's feet, and 
demands not one but many kisses in the Canticle of Can- 
ticles, 28 since like blessed Mary she listens to His every saying, 
she receives His every word, when the Gospel or the Prophets 
are read, and she keeps all these words in her heart. 29 The 
Church alone has kisses, like a bride, for a kiss is a pledge of 
nuptials and the privilege of wedlock. How could a Jew have 
kisses, since he does not believe in the Bridegroom? How 
could a Jew have kisses, if he still does not know that the 
Bridegroom has come? 

He has not only no kisses, but neither does he have oil 
to anoint Christ's feet, 30 for if he had had oil, he would have, 
before now, softened his own neck. Therefore, Moses says: 
Tor it is a stiff-necked people,' 31 and the Lord says that the 
Levite and the priest passed by and neither of them poured 
oil or wine into the wounds of the man beaten by robbers, 32 
for they had nothing to pour, but, if they had had oil, they 
would have poured it into their own wounds. But Isaias 
declares: 'They cannot apply ointment nor oil nor bandage.' 33 

But the Church has oil with which she dresses her chil- 
dren's wounds lest the severity of the wound work deep within. 
She has oil which she received secretly. With this oil Aser 
washed his feet, as it is written: 'A blessed son is Aser, and 

27 Matt. 15.8, quoting Isa. 29.13. 

28 Cf. Cant. 1.1. 

29 Cf. Luke 2.51. 

30 Cf. Luke 7.46. 

31 Exod. 34.9. 

32 Cf. Luke 10.31,32. 

33 Isa. 1.6. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 393 

he shall be acceptable to his brethren, and shall dip his 
foot in oil.' 34 With this oil the Church anoints the necks of 
her children so that they may take the yoke of Christ; with 
this oil she anointed the martyrs so that they might wipe off 
the dust of this world; with this oil she anointed confessors 
lest they give way to toil, succumb, being weary, or be over- 
come by the heat of this world. Therefore did she anoint 
them so that she might cool them with the oil of the Spirit. 

The synagogue has not this oil, for it has not the olive, 
not having known that dove which carried an olive branch 
after the flood. 35 That dove descended later when Christ was 
being baptized, and it remained over Him, as John testifies 
in the Gospel, saying: *I beheld the Spirit descending as a 
dove from heaven, and it abode upon him.' 36 How did he see 
the dove who did not see Him over whom the Spirit descended 
as a dove? 

The Church, therefore, washes the feet of Christ and 
wipes them with her hair and anoints them with oil and 
pours ointment upon them, since not only does she care for the 
wounded and fondle the weary, but she also bedews them 
with the sweet perfume of grace. And she pours this grace 
not only on the rich and powerful, but also on men of lowly 
birth. She weighs all in an equal balance; she receives all into 
the same bosom; she fondles all in the same embrace. 

Christ died once; He was buried once; nevertheless, He 
wishes ointment poured upon His feet each day. What feet of 
Christ are they that we pour ointment upon? They are the 
feet of Christ of whom He Himself says: 'What you have 
done for one of the least of these, you have done to me.' 37 
These feet the woman in the Gospel refreshes, these she 
bedews with her tears, 38 when sin is forgiven the lowest of 

34 Deut. 33.24. 

35 Cf, Gen. 7.11. 

36 John 1.32. 

37 Matt. 25.40. 

38 Cf. Luke 7.38. 



394 SAINT AMBROSE 

men, guilt washed away, and pardon granted. These feet he 
kisses who loves even the least of God's people. These feet he 
anoints with ointment who imparts the favor of his gentleness 
to those who are more frail. In these the martyrs, in these 
the Apostles, in these the Lord Jesus Himself declares He is 
honored. 

You see how virtuous the Lord is, that He urges you to 
piety through His own example, for He is virtuous even when 
He offers reproof. Accusing the Jews, He says : O my people, 
what have I done to thee or in what have I grieved thee or 
in what have I molested thee? Answer thou me. For I 
brought thee out of the land of Egypt and I delivered thee 
out of the house of servitude.' And He adds: 'And I sent 
before thy face Moses and Aaron and Mary.' 39 Bear in mind 
what Balac plotted against you, that is, the one seeking the 
help of magical art; but still I did not permit him to harm 
you. As an exile in a foreign country, you were overwhelmed 
and hard pressed with burdensome trials; I sent before your 
face Moses and Aaron and Mary, and he, who had robbed the 
exile, was himself first robbed. 40 You who had lost your 
possessions gained those of others, being freed from the 
enemy who walled you in, and safely you saw the destruction 
of your enemies amid the waves, while the same water which 
surrounded and carried you forward flowed back and drown- 
ed the enemy. When you needed food, as you came through 
the desert, did I not provide a rain of food and provisions in 
abundance wherever you went? 41 Did I not bring you, after 
subduing all your enemies, into the country of the Botrys? 42 
Did I not deliver to you Sehon, King of the Amorrhites 43 
(that is, the proud, the king of those who provoke you), and 
did I not hand over to you the King of Hai alive, whom you, 
because of an ancient curse, fixed to the wood and hung 

39 Mich. 6.3,4. 

40 Cf. Exod. 14.29. 

41 Cf. Exod. 16.4. 

42 Cf. Num. 13.24,25 (Septuagint) . Botrys is called Wady Eshcol in the 
Vulgate. 

43 Cf. Num. 21.26. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 395 

upon a cross? 44 Why should I mention the slaughter of the 
troops of the five kings who endeavored to keep the land 
they owed you? And in return for all this, O man, what do I 
ask but that you do judgment and justice, and love mercy, 
and be prepared to walk with the Lord your God. 

What was His reproach through the Prophet Nathan to 
King David himself, 45 that pious and gentle man? I chose 
you, He said, the youngest of your brethren; I filled you with 
the spirit of meekness; I anointed you king through Samuel 
in whom I and My name dwelt; I 'removed that former 
king 46 whom an evil spirit induced to persecute the Lord's 
priests, and from an exile I made you a conqueror. I raised 
up to your throne one of your seed, not an heir as much as 
partner; I made the strange nations subject to you, to serve 
you, whereas they had been your attackers. Will you draw 
those who serve Me into the power of My enemies? And will 
you take away what belonged to a servant of Mine, and 
thereby be branded with sin, and will you give My adversaries 
an occasion to boast? 

Therefore, O Emperor for I will speak not only about 
you, but to you since you observe how seriously the Lord is 
wont to censure, take thought, now that you have become 
glorious, to submit all the more to your Maker. For it is 
written: 'Say not when the Lord your God has brought you 
into another's land and you have eaten another's fruit: "My 
virtue and my justice gave this to me, but the Lord God 
bestowed it, but Christ in His mercy brought it." ' 47 Thus, in 
loving this body, that is, the Church, bring water for His 
feet, and kiss His feet, 48 not only pardoning those who have 
become enmeshed in sin, but by your peace giving them 
concord and putting them at peace. Pour ointment on His 

44 Cf. Josue 8.23,29. 

45 Cf. 2 Kings 12.7-12. Ambrose here makes the reproach of Nathan fall 
upon Theodosius. 

46 Valens. 

47 Deut. 9.4. 

48 Cf. John 12.3. 



396 SAINT AMBROSE 

feet, that the whole house wherein Christ reclines at table 
may be filled with the odor of your ointment, that all at table 
with Him may be pleased with your perfume; in other words, 
pay honor to the least [of men]. Thus, angels may be 
gladdened by the forgiveness of these, as over one sinner 
doing penance; 49 the Apostles may rejoice, the Prophets may 
delight ! The eyes cannot say to the hand : 'We do not need 
thy help'; nor, again, the head to the feet: 'I have no need 
of you.' 50 But, because all are needed, guard the whole body 
of the Lord Jesus, that He also by His heavenly condescension 
may preserve your kingdom. 

When I came down from the pulpit, he [the emperor] 
said to me: 'You spoke about me.' I answered: 'I preached 
what is intended to benefit you.' Then he said: 'I really 
made too harsh a decision about the bishop's repairing the 
synagogue. The monks do many outrageous things.' Then 
Timosius, general of the cavalry and infantry, began being 
abusive about the monks. I answered him: 'I am dealing 
with the emperor, as is fitting, for I know that he fears the 
Lord; but one must deal otherwise with you, for you speak 
so rudely.' 

Then, when I had stood for some time, I said to the 
emperor: 'Let me confidently sacrifice in your behalf; set my 
mind at rest.' When he continued sitting and nodding, and 
made no promise openly, and I remained standing, he said 
he would correct the edict. I immediately went on to say 
that he should end the whole investigation, so that the count 
would not harm the Christians in any way on the pretext of an 
investigation. He promised. I said to him: 1 am acting on 
your promise,' and I repeated : 'I am acting on your promise.' 
'Go ahead,' he said, 'on my promise.' So I went to the altar, 

49 Cf. Luke 15.10. 

50 1 Cor. 1221. 



LETTERS TO HIS SISTER 397 

but I would not have done so if he had not fully promised. 51 
Indeed, so great was the grace of the Offering that I myself 
felt that the favor had been very pleasing to our God, and 
that we were in the presence of God. Thus, all was done as 
I wished. 

51 This sentence reveals Ambrose's determination to establish very de- 
finite episcopal and imperial spheres of influence. 




LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



63. Ambrose to Alypius 1 

\ HE HONORABLE Antiochus 2 delivered to me your 
Excellency's letter, and I have not been remiss in 
sending a reply. I dispatched a letter to you by my 
own messengers, and, unless I am mistaken, sent another 
when a second opportunity arose. 3 Feeling as I do that we are 
to amass rather than carefully weigh out tokens of friend- 
ship, it became my duty to make some return of correspond- 
ence, especially since our friend upon returning put me 
under obligation by mentioning your letters. Only thus might 
I stand clear with each of you, and he with you, for he was 
bound to bring back to you what he had received from you. 
Farewell, and love those who love you. 



64. Ambrose to Antonius 1 

You are never unmentioned by me, nor shall I ever com- 
plain of being passed over in silence, for I know that I am not 

1 Undated; the addressee is undoubtedly Faltonius Probus Alypius, pre- 
fect of the city in 391. 

2 Antiochus was proconsul of Achaia in 395. He and Alypius are also 
both mentioned in the correspondence of Symmachus. 

3 Internal evidence of other letters of Ambrose to Alypius. 

1 Undated, to Claudius Antonius, consul in 382 (?) . 

399 



400 SAINT AMBROSE 

absent from your heart. But, since you are concerned over 
what is precious, how can you refuse to give what others 
often receive, not as a token of love but as an exchange of 
civility? 2 

Indeed, from my own feelings I can in turn judge yours, 
believing I am never far from you nor you from me, so 
closely are we united in our souls. I should never feel I 
need your letters or you mine, for I talk with you each day, 
turning toward you my gaze, my attention, and all my 
respects. 

Rivalry with you in acts like these gives me pleasure, for 
to speak openly with one who is inseparable from my heart 
your letters put me to shame. I beg you, then, cease 
expressing your gratitude, for my respects to you have their 
full reward if I know I have not failed in my duty toward 
you. 

Farewell, and love us, because I also love you. 



65. Ambrose to Atticus 1 

You sent a letter by my friend Priscus. He delivered it to 
me and I am doing the same to him. Continue to love Priscus 
as you do, and even more than you do; this I advise because 

1 esteem my friend Priscus very highly. I feel toward him 
that pristine love of ours which from childhood on has grown 
with our years. But it was a long while since I had seen him, 
so that not only by his name but by the long interval of 
time he came to me as truly 'pristine.' 

Farewell, and love us who cherish you, for we love you. 

2 Viz., a letter. 



1 Undated; it is probable that Atticus was the consul of 397. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 401 

66. Ambrose to Bellicius, greetings 1 - 

You tell me that while you lay very ill you believed in the 
Lord Jesus and soon began to grow better. This sickness was 
intended for your health and brought you more pain than 
peril, since you were long postponing the fulfillment of your 
promise. 2 This is the meaning of the words: *I will strike, 
and I will heal. 13 He struck you with illness; He healed you 
with faith. He saw the inward desire of your soul, not void 
of pious longing, but troubled by delays, and He chose to 
admonish you in such a way as not to harm your health and 
yet to incite your devotion. 

How could He harm your health, He who is wont to say, 
as we read in the Gospel: 'I will come and cure him'? 4 In 
the same way, undoubtedly, when invited by your friends to 
visit your home, He said: 'I will come and cure him.' 
Although, perhaps, you did not hear Him, He as God spoke 
imperceptibly, and if you did not see Him, there is no 
possible doubt that He visited you though without a body. 

You saw Him, for you believed in Him; you saw Him, for 
you received Him into the dwelling of your mind; you saw 
Him in spirit; you saw with inner eyes. Hold fast your new 
Guest, long awaited, but lately received, in whom c we live 
and have our being and move.' 5 You have tasted the first 
fruits of faith; let not the word be hidden in your heart. 
This is all grace, this is every gift. No one appraises the 
secret recesses of a house from the entrance, since all the 
fruit is within; 6 the wise man will not look at a house 

1 This and the following letter are undated. 

2 Bellicius had evidently promised to become a Christian and delayed 
the fulfillment of the promise until stricken with illness. 

3 Deut. 32.39. 

4 Matt. 8.7. 

5 Acts 17.28. 

6 A reference to the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Holy 
Eucharist, all of which Bellicius must first learn about before he is 
allowed to receive them. 



402 SAINT AMBROSE 

from a window and it is foolish for men to listen at the door. 

The mysteries of the more perfect sacraments are of two 
kinds, as Scripture says: 'Eye has not seen nor ear heard, 
what things God has prepared for those who love Him.' 7 Of 
one kind are the things which the Prophets foretold about the 
future glory, for they were revealed to them, and the saints 
have preached the good tidings c by the Spirit of God sent 
from heaven. Into these things angels desire to look/ as the 
Apostle Peter says. 8 Of still another kind are the mysteries 
wherein are the redemption of the world, remission of sin, 
division of graces, participation in the sacraments. On re- 
ceiving these you will marvel that man has been given so 
transcendent a gift and you will know that even the manna, 
which we so wonder at for having been rained down from 
heaven upon the Jews, 9 did not have such grace or power 
to work our salvation. All who received the manna in the 
desert are dead, except Josue the son of Nun, and Caleb, 10 
but one who tastes this sacrament will never die. 

May the Lord Jesus give you health! Farewell. 



67. Ambrose to Bellicius 

You have heard, my brother, the reading of the Gospel 
where it is related that the Lord Jesus, as He was passing on 
His way, saw a man blind from birth. If the Lord Jesus, 
when He saw him, thought he should not be passed by, then 
we ought not pass by one whom the Lord did not pass by, 
especially since he had been blind from birth, a fact that is 
mentioned not without good reason. 

There is a blindness resulting from sickness which obscures 

7 1 Cor. 2.9. 

8 1 Peter 1.12. 

9 Cf. Exod. 16.15,16. 
10 Cf. Num. 32.12. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 403 

the vision and is remedied by the passage of time. There is a 
blindness which is caused by flowing humors and this, also, 
when the trouble is removed., is generally cured by the skill of 
medicine. From this you may know that when one is cured 
who has been blind from birth it is not a case of skill but of 
power. The Lord gave health, and He used no medicine, for 
the Lord Jesus healed those whom no one else had cured. 

How stupid of the Jews to ask: 'Did this man sin, or his 
parents?' attributing bodily weaknesses to punishment for sin. 
The Lord therefore said: 'Neither has this man sinned, nor 
his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest 
in him.' What fell short of its nature, this the Creator, the 
Author of nature, was able to remedy. He then added: 'As 
long as I am in the world I am the light of the world,' 1 that 
is, all the blind can see if they search for me, the light. Come 
also you, and be enlightened that you may be able to see. 2 

What did He wish in that He who gave back life at His 
command bestowed health by His word, saying to the dead: 
'Come forth' 3 and Lazarus carne forth from the tomb; saying 
to the paralytic: 'Arise, take up thy pallet' 4 and the paralytic 
arose and began to take up the pallet on which he was 
carried when he was paralyzed in all his limbs; why, I say, 
did He spit and make clay and spread the clay over the eyes 
of the blind man and say to him: ' "Go, wash in the pool of 
Siloe" (which is interpreted "sent")? So he went away and 
washed and began to see.' 5 What is the reason for this? An 
important reason, unless I am mistaken, for he whom Jesus 
touches sees more. 

Notice at the same time His divinity and His sanctity. As 
the Light He touched and shed light; as Priest He fulfilled in 
the figure of baptism the mysteries of spiritual grace. He spat 

1 John 9.2,3,5. 

2 Cf. Ps. 33.6. 

3 John 11.44. 

4 Mark 2.11. 

5 John 9.6,7. 



404 SAINT AMBROSE 

so that you might realize that the things within Christ are 
light. One who is cleansed by the means which Christ uses 
truly sees. His spittle cleanses and so does His word, as you 
have: 'You are already clean because of the word that I 
have spoken to you.' 6 

This making clay and spreading it on the eyes of the blind 
man, what does it signify to us but that He who made man 
from clay 7 restored man to health by smearing him with clay, 
and that this flesh of our clay may receive through the 
sacrament of baptism the light of eternal life? Do you, also, 
draw near to Siloe, to one who was sent by the Father, as 
you read: 'My teaching is not my own, but his who sent 
me. 58 Let Christ wash you that you may see. Come to baptism; 
now is the time; come in haste that you may say: 1 went 
and washed, and I began to see'; 9 that you may say: 'I was 
blind, and I began to see'; that you may say as he [Paul] 
said when the light had been shed upon him: 'The night is 
far advanced; the day is at hand/ 10 

The night was blindness. It was night when Judas received 
the morsel from Jesus and Satan entered into him. 11 For 
Judas, in whom was the Devil, it was night; for John, who 
reclined on Christ's breast, it was day. It was day, too, for 
Peter when he saw the light of Christ on the mountain. 12 
For the others it was night, but for Peter it was day. But to 
that very same Peter it was night when he denied Christ. 
Then the cock crowed and he began to weep, 13 in order to 
mend his wrong, for now the day was at hand. 

The Jews kept asking the blind man : 'How were your eyes 

6 John 15.3. 

7 Cf. Gen. 2.7. 

8 John 7.16. 

9 John 9.11. 

10 Rom. 13.12. 

11 Cf. John 13.27. 

12 Cf. Matt, 16.2-6. 

13 Cf. Matt. 26.75. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 405 

opened?' 14 Great madness! They asked what they saw; they 
asked the reason when they saw the effect. 

'And they heaped abuse on him, saying: "Thou art his 
disciple." >15 Their curse is a blessing, because their blessing 
is a curse. 'Thou art his disciple,' they said. They do good 
when they supposed they are doing harm. 

Farewell, son, and love us as you do, for we love you. 



68. To Clementianus 1 

Today, my son, you heard the lesson in the Apostle that 
'The Law has been our tutor unto Christ, that we might be 
justified by faith.' 2 It seems to me that by this one text those 
questions are resolved which ordinarily trouble many persons. 
There are those who say : 'Since God gave the Law to Moses, 
why is it that there are many things in the Law which seem 
made void now by the Gospel? And how can the Author of 
the two Testaments be one and the same, when a thing 
permitted in the Law was no longer permitted when the 
Gospel came, such as bodily circumcision, though it was then 
given only as a sign, in order that the reality of spiritual 
.circumcision might be retained? But why was it given even 
for a sign? Why is there such a difference of opinion, so 
that circumcision, being then considered piety, is now thought 
an impiety? Further, according to the Law it was ordained 
that the Sabbath be kept as a holiday, and if one carried a 
bundle of sticks he was guilty of death, 3 but now we see 
that very day devoted to carrying burdens and conducting 

14 John 9.10. 

15 John 9.28. 

1 An undated letter, attributed to Irenaeus in the mss.., although its 
contents connect it with the following letter to Clementianus. 

2 Gal. 3.24. 

3 Cf. Num. 15.32-35. 



406 SAINT AMBROSE 

business without any penalty being attached. There are many 
commandments of the Law which seem to have ceased at the 
present time. 3 

Let us consider the reason for this, for not unintentionally 
did the Apostle say that The Law has been our tutor unto 
Christ.' Who has a tutor, an older person or a youth? Un- 
doubtedly, a youth or child, that is, one of tender age, for 
pedagogus, as the word is rendered in Latin, means a child's 
teacher; he cannot impart perfect precepts to an imperfect 
age, because it cannot bear them. Then, through the Prophet, 
the God of the Law says : C I shall give you statutes that are not 
good/ 4 that is, not perfect, for perfect is surely what is good. 
But the same God has preserved the most perfect things for 
the Gospel, as He says: 'I have not come to destroy the Law, 
but to fulfill it/ 5 

What, then, was the cause of this diversity if not man's 
changeableness? He knew that the Jewish people were stiff- 
necked, prone to fall, base, inclined to unbelief, who heard 
with their ears and did not heed, who saw with their eyes 
and did not see, being fickle with the instability of infancy, 
heedless of commands. And so He provided the Law as a 
tutor for the unstable disposition and weak mind of His 
people, and moderating the very precepts of the Law, He 
desired one to be read, the other to be understood. Thus, the 
fool would at least keep watch over what he was reading 
and not depart from the instruction of the letter, while the 
wise would understand the thought of God's mind which the 
letter did not convey; the man lacking judgment would keep 
the command of. the Law, the man of judgment its mystery. 
Thus does the Law hold a sword's severity, as the tutor does 
his rod, in order to awe by threatening punishment of the 
weakness of an imperfect people. Yet, the Gospel has a 
gentleness by which sins are forgiven. 

4 Ezech. 20,25. 

5 Matt. 5.17. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 407 

Rightly, then, does Paul say that c the letter kills, but the 
spirit gives life.' 6 The letter circumcised a small part of the 
body, the understanding spirit keeps the circumcision of the 
entire soul and body, so that chastity might be preserved, 
frugality loved, with the unnecessary parts cut off (for noth- 
ing is so unnecessary as the vices of greed, the sins of lust, 
which did not belong to nature but which sin has caused ) . 
Bodily circumcision is the symbol, but the reality is the 
spiritual circumcision; the one cuts off a member, the other 
sin. Nature has created nothing imperfect in man, nor has 
she bade it be removed as unnecessary. However, in order that 
those who cut off part of their body might realize that there 
is more need for their sins to be cut off, and those persons 
cut down who led them to sin, even though they are joined 
by a certain bodily union, you have the words: c lf thy right 
hand is an occasion of sin to thee, cut it off and cast it from 
thee; for it is better for thee that one of thy members should 
be lost than that thy whole body should go into hell.' 7 To the 
Jews, therefore, like children, precepts are not given in full 
but only in part, and they who could not keep the whole 
body clean are bidden to keep clean, as it were, only one part 
of it. 

They were also commanded to keep the Sabbath holiday 
one day of the week, 8 so that they would be laden with no 
burden, having escaped and been released from worldly tasks, 
so as to carry with them to that everlasting sabbath of future 
ages no burdens of grievous sins. Yet, because He knew that 
His people were fickle, God demanded that the weak ones 
observe but one day; He reserved for the stronger ones the 
full observance. The synagogue observes the day; the Church, 
immortality. In the Law is a part ; in the Gospel is perfection. 

The Jewish people are forbidden to carry wood, 9 that is, 

6 2 Cor. 3.6. 

7 Matt. 5.30. 

8 Cf. Exod. 31.15. 

9 Cf. Num. 15.33. 



4:08 SAINT AMBROSE 

such things as are consumed by fire. One who keeps out of 
the sun has shade. The Sun of Justice does not allow the shade 
to hinder you; pouring forth the full light of His grace He 
says to you: Go thy way, and from now on sin no more.' 10 
The imitator of that everlasting Sun says: 'But if anyone 
builds upon this foundation, gold, silver, and precious stones, 
wood, hay, straw the work of each will be made manifest, 
for the day of the Lord will declare it, since the day is to be 
revealed in fire. The fire will assay the quality of everyone's 
work.' 11 And so let us build upon Christ (for Christ is our 
foundation) that which is not burned but improved. Gold 
is improved by fire, so is silver improved. 

You heard gold and silver mentioned and you think of the 
material; you want to accumulate it. You are wasting my 
effort. This gold and silver bring a burden, but no enjoy- 
ment. The burden of the man who searches for it is the 
profit of his heir. This gold is burnt like wood, not kept 
forever. This silver will bring loss to your life in that day, not 
gain. Another kind of gold and silver is required of you, 
that is, a good thought, a fine word; from these God says He 
gives vessels of gold and silver. These are God's gifts: 'The 
words of the Lord are sincere, silver tried by fire, refined of 
the earth, purified seven-fold. 512 The beauty of your mind, 
the brilliance of chaste speech, are asked of you; the bright- 
ness of faith, not the tinkling of silver. The one remains; the 
other perishes. The one includes a reward and we carry it 
with us; the other entails loss because we leave it here. 

If any rich man thinks that the gold and silver which he 
has hoarded and stored away can avail for his life, he is 
carrying a worthless burden which the fire of judgment will 
destroy. Rich men, leave here your pieces of wood so that 
your burden will not add fuel to the fire which is to come. 

10 John 8.11-13. 

11 1 Cor. 3.12,13. 

12 Ps. 11.7. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 409 

Your burden will be lightened if you give away some of your 
load, and what remains will be no burden. Miser, do not 
bury your treasure, lest you be a Christian in name only, a 
Jew in practice, realizing that your burdens are your punish- 
ment. For it has been said to you, not in the shade, but in 
the sun: 'If his work abides he will receive reward; if his 
work burns he will suffer loss. 513 

Accordingly, like a perfect man learned in the Law and 
made firm in the Gospel, accept the faith of both Testaments, 
for, as we read today: 'Blessed is he who sows upon every 
water, where the ox and the ass tread, 514 that is, who sows 
upon the people who follow the teaching of both Testaments; 
this is the ploughman's ox, wearing the yoke of the Law, of 
which the Law says: 'Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that 
treadeth out thy corn, 915 for this ox has the horns of holy 
Scripture. But in the Gospel the Lord, representing the 
people of the Gentiles, mounts the colt of an ass. 16 

But I think that, since the word of God is rich in meaning, 
we should also understand that an ox has horns that fill one 
with terror, that a bull is fierce, an ass gentle. This thought 
is suited to our purpose, because that man who is both 
severe and gentle is blessed: his severity, by striking terror 
maintains discipline; his gentleness does not crush innocence; 
for excessive severity often prompts a lie. God prefers being 
loved to being feared, for the Lord exacts love, a servant 
fear, although fear cannot last forever in man because it has 
been written, as we read today: 'Behold, in fear of you they 
will fear whom you feared.' 17 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you. 

13 1 Cor. 3.14. 

14 Isa. 32.20. 

15 Deut. 25.4. 

16 Cf. Luke 19.30-37. 

17 Source unknown. 



410 SAINT AMBROSE 

69. Ambrose to Clementianus 1 

I am well aware that nothing is more difficult than 
treating properly the Apostle's meaning, for even Origen's 
exposition of the New Testament is far inferior to his ex- 
position of the Old. Yet, because you feel that in my previous 
letter I have not explained amiss the reason why the Law is 
a tutor, I shall, in what I say today, plan to unfold the full 
force of the Apostle's meaning. 

Now, the first part of this discourse declares that no one 
is justified by the works of the Law, but by faith, 'Since those 
who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse,' but 
'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, becoming a 
curse for us. 3 The inheritance is not given by the Law, but 
by promise, for 'The promises were made to Abraham and 
to his offspring . . . who is Christ/ The Law, therefore, c was 
enacted on account of transgressions, until the offspring 
should come to whom the promise was made,' and so 'All 
things were shut up under sin, that by the faith of Jesus 
Christ the promise might be given to those who believe. . . . 
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under the 
Law,' that is, under a tutor. 2 And, because we are sons of 
God, we all are also in Christ Jesus. But, if we are in Christ 
Jesus, then we are the seed of Abraham, the heirs according 
to the promise. This is the conclusion which the Apostle 
reaches in his thought. 

Yet, he meets the objection even of the Jew who can say: 
'I also am an heir, for I am under the Law.' The Law is 
called the Old Testament, and where there is a testament 
there is an inheritance, although the Apostle himself told the 
Hebrews that a testament is of no force while the testator 
lives, but is confirmed by his death. 3 But, because the Lord 

1 Undated. 

2 Gal. 3.10-16,22-24. 

3 Cf. Heb. 9.17. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 411 

said of the Jews in Jeremias: 'My inheritance has become to 
me like a lion,' 4 he [Paul] would not say they were not heirs. 
But there are heirs without property, and those with property, 
and while the testator lives those who are mentioned in the 
will are called heirs, though they are without property. 

Little children are also heirs, no different from slaves, 
since they are under guardians and stewards: 'So, 3 says he, 
'we, too, were Jews enslaved under the elements of this world. 
But when the fullness of time came, Christ also came/ 5 and 
now we are no longer servants, but sons, if we believe in 
Christ. Thus, He gave them the semblance of an inheritance, 
but withheld its possession; they have the name of heir, but 
not its advantage, for, like children who are heirs, they 
possess the bare name of heirship but not its privilege, having 
no right of command or use, awaiting the fullness of their 
age that they may be released from their guardians. 

Just like children, so are the Jews also under a tutor. The 
Law is our tutor; a tutor brings us to the master; Christ is 
our only master: 'Do not say lord and master to yourselves, 
for one only is your master, the Christ/ 6 A tutor is feared, 
the master points out the way to salvation. Fear brings us to 
liberty, liberty to faith, faith to love, love obtains adoption, 
adoption an inheritance. Therefore, where there is faith, 
there is freedom, for a slave acts in fear, a free man through 
faith. The one is under the letter, the other under grace; 
the one in slavery, the other in the spirit; for 'Where the 
Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.' 7 If, where there is 
faith, there is freedom; where freedom, grace; where grace, 
an inheritance then one who is a Jew in the letter but not 
in spirit is in slavery. One who has not faith has not liberty 
of spirit. Where there is no freedom, there is no grace; where 

4 Jer. 12.8. 

5 Gal. 4.1-3. 

6 Matt. 23.10. 

7 2 Cor. 3.17. 



4 1 2 SAINT AMBROSE 

no grace, no adoption; where no adoption, no right of 
succession. 

Thus, he beholds his inheritance as though on sealed tablets, 
he does not possess it, and he has not the right of choice. How 
can he say 'Our Father' 8 if he denies the true Son of God 
by whom our adoption is obtained? How can he draw up a 
will if he denies the death of the Testator? How can he 
obtain freedom if he denies the Blood by which he was 
redeemed? For, it is the price of our freedom, as Peter says : 
'You were redeemed with the precious blood/ 9 not of a lamb, 
but of Him who came in meekness and humility like a lamb, 
and freed the whole world with the single offering of His 
body, as He Himself said: 'I was led like a lamb to be 
sacrificed/ 10 and John also says: 'Behold, the lamb of God, 
behold the one who takes away the sins of the world.' 11 

Hence, the Jew is an heir in the letter, not in the spirit; 
he is like a child under guardians and stewards. But the 
Christian who knows the fullness of time when Christ came, 
made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem all who 
were under the Law, the Christian, I say, through the unity 
of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, rises to perfect 
manhood, to the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ. 12 

Farewell, son, and love us, for we love you. 

8 Matt. 6.9. 

9 1 Peter 1.19, 

10 Isa. 53.7. 

11 John 1.29. 

12 Cf. Eph. 4.13. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 413 

70. Ambrose to Cynegius 1 

How you have ennobled yourself by consulting me on a 
matter you did not approve, desiring only to suit your conduct 
to your father's wishes, so that you might not lessen your 
affection, feeling sure that I would make no reply but what 
benefited holy relationships. 

I willingly took your burdens upon myself and reconciled, 
I hope, the niece to her uncle. I truly do not know why he 
wanted you to become his son-in-law, changing his status of 
uncle to that of father-in-law. 2 I need say no more for fear 
that this, too, would lead to confusion. 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we also love you. 

71. Ambrose to Eusebius 1 (c. 392) 

The secretary of the prefecture, who got into trouble by 
his work at Portus, 2 is now sailing into port. 3 He came most 
opportunely, for as soon as I received your letter I saw the 
prefect and interceded for him. He immediately pardoned 
him and ordered withdrawn the letter which he had dictated 
for the sale of his property. Even if the secretary's arrival 
had been delayed, no one would have admitted the difficulty 
of rebuilding the port more than one who would have 
suffered shipwreck there, had you not been his pilot. Under 
the conditions he would barely have escaped alive. 

1 Palanque dates this letter at the beginning of 393, associated with the 
letter to Paternus. 

2 Marriage with a niece was forbidden by a law of Constantine in 339. 
Cf. Cod. Theod. 3.12.1. 



1 Eusebius was a distinguished layman of Bologna, whose son, Faustinus, 
was spending some time in Milan. 

2 Situated on the harbor of Ostia, Eusebius was probably a superinten- 
dent of some work being done there. 

3 One of the many puns of Ambrose. 



414 SAINT AMBROSE 

Little Faustinas is suffering from a cough, and he has come 
to his saintly sister to be cured, and come willingly, for he 
has found that his stomach ailment is better cared for here. 
He thinks, too, that I am a doctor and looks to me for his 
meals. So he gets his medicine here twice a day and has 
begun feeling fairly well, but when, out of excessive love, 
they hold off the doses, his stomach cough begins worse than 
before, and if he does not return to his medicines he will 
continue to suffer. 

Farewell, and love us, for we also love you. 



72. Ambrose to Eusebius (c. 395) 

The two Faustinuses 1 have returned to you, the two little 
Ambroses 2 are staying with me. In the father you have what 
is most distinguished, in the son what is most agreeable, for 
you have the height of virtue and you yourself show the grace 
of humility. I have what is midway between father and 
young son. With you is the head of the whole house, and the 
uninterrupted succession of a name handed down; with me 
remains the frugal mean which depends upon the head and 
shares the nature of what follows. You have the one who is 
the peace of both of us, who, when he is given me in turn, 
smoothes away all the concerns of my soul. You have the 
one who by his life and deeds and progeny has found favor 
with our Lord. You have the one who amid the storms of 
this world has fostered a spiritual dove 3 to bring him the 
fruits of peace, 4 for she is anointed with the oil of chastity. 
With you is one who built an altar to God, whom God 

1 Eusebius' son and grandson. 

2 Ambrose and Ambrosia; for the latter he wrote his Inst. Virg. (PL 
16.305-334) . 

3 A reference to Ambrosia. 

4 Cf. Gen. 8.11. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 415 

blessed with his sons, saying: 'Increase and multiply/ 5 with 
whom He established the covenant of His peace which would 
endure for him and his children for everlasting generations. 

Yo'u have the heir of the divine benediction, a partner of 
grace, a sharer of righteousness. Be careful, I beg you, that 
this Noe, our husbandman, the good planter of a fruitful 
vineyard, when he is inebriated with the cup of your love 
and grace, does not become like a man drunk with wine, who 
after indulging too long in rest, happens to fall asleep and is 
awakened by the longing for our Chem. 

Japhet is there, too, the youngest of the brothers, who with 
reverential piety covers his father, whom his father sees even 
while he sleeps and never puts out of his thoughts, but keeps 
always in his sight and in his embrace, and upon awaking 
will know what his youngest son has done for him. In Latin 
his name signifies 'richness of expression,' because grace is 
poured out upon his lips and in his life. God therefore has 
blessed him because, going backwards, so to speak, to Bologna, 
he covered his father with the pious cloak of charity 6 and 
showed honor to piety. Of him his father says: 'May God 
make Japhet rejoice in the houses of Chanaan.' 7 For this 
reason, too, in the story of this generation he is preferred to 
his elder brother, he is given the blessing in his stead, he is 
preferred out of honor to his name, he is ranked above the 
privilege of elder birth and the honor due to nature. 

In Latin Chanaan signifies a 'name.' Truly is this Ambrose 
of ours a good name, in whose houses Japhet may rejoice, 
because 'A good name is better than a great abundance of 
riches.' 8 Let him be blessed and let his favor be above gold 
and silver, let this seed of Abraham be in his inheritance, 
let every blessing be upon his posterity and on the household 

5 Gen. 9.9. 

6 Cf. Gen. 9.23. 

7 Gen. 9.27. 

8 Prov. 22.1. 



416 SAINT AMBROSE 

of the just man. But no one is accursed, all are blessed, for 
blessed is the fruit of Sara. 

The Ambroses greet you, dear Parthenius greets you, so 
does Valentinian, now humbly disposed, greet you, for in 
Hebrew he is called 'Chanaan/ being, as it were, his brother's 
servant, yielding to him and to his name. He is like mighty 
Nembroth who had a double name, the famous hunter upon 
earth, of whom it is said: 'Even as Nembroth the great 
hunter before the Lord. 39 He is rude by nature and of great 
bodily strength, and in his prowess he surpasses those whose 
genius he cannot match; he seems to carry with him the 
Comacine cliffs and to resemble them in expression, being a 
sort of bull, 10 enraged because he has been set aside, deprived 
of his paternal title, made subject to a man from Bologna, 
though he is an inhabitant of the capital. You see, he knows 
not the charming ways of infancy, and when he is hurt he 
shakes off his nurse's embrace. 

Farewell; love us, for we love you. 

73. Ambrose to Faustinus, greetings (late 394) 

I knew very well that you would lament with bitter grief 
the death of your sister, yet not in such a way as to estrange 
yourself from us, but to come back to us. Although mourners 
have not joyous consolations, they are always necessary ones. 
But you have gone off to a mountain retreat, to a cave amid 
the haunts of beasts, spurning all part in the affairs of men 
and, what is more serious, disregarding even your own good 
judgment. 

Did your sister deserve that a human relationship which 
gave you a woman so remarkable and which should have 
exerted its influence on you, should have but little privilege? 

9 Gen. 10.9. 
10 Cf. Virgil, Georg. 3.58. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 417 

Indeed, when she was departing from life she comforted her- 
self with the consolation that she was leaving you as her 
survivor to be a parent to your nephews, a mentor for her 
children, a help to the bereaved. You are keeping yourself 
from your nephews and us, so that we do not have the 
enjoyment of that consolation. Her dear children bid you not 
grieve but comfort them, so that when they see you they will 
think that their mother has not died; in you they will know 
her again; in you they will cling to her presence; in you they 
will feel that her life remains for them. 

You are sad because she who was in good health for a 
long time died unexpectedly. This is an experience which we 
share not only with men but even with cities and countries. 1 
As you left Claterna behind, coming from Bologna, and then 
Bologna, Modena, and Reggio, Brescello was on your right, 
and ahead Piacenza meets you, still echoing its ancient nobility 
in its name. You were moved with pity for the ruined areas 
of the Apennines to the left, and you pondered the towns of 
once-prosperous peoples and parted from them with sorrowful 
thoughts. Do not the empty remains of so many half-ruined 
cities and the destruction of so many lands set before your 
gaze counsel you to consider the death of one, although she 
is a holy and admirable lady, to be more consoling, since they 
have fallen and have been ruined forever, but she, who has 
been taken from us for a time, lives a better life beyond. 

I think that she should not be mourned but, rather, 
followed with prayer. I believe that you should not lament 
for her with tears, but commend her soul to the Lord by 
your prayers. 

Of course, you may say that she is saved through her 

1 An extensive imitation of Servius Sulpicius' letter of consolation to 
Cicero on the death oi Tullia, Cicero Epist. ad Fam. 4.5. For interesting 
remarks on this letter, see addendum to commentary in R. Y. Tyrell- 
L. C. Purser, Correspondence of M. Tullius Cicero, Vol. 5 (2nd ed., 
1915) xc-xci, where the editors say that 'the language [of Ambrose] 
may, perhaps, be inferior to that of Sulpicius, but the hope is higher.' 



418 SAINT AMBROSE 

merits and her faith, yet that you cannot bear the longing 
for her, no longer seeing her in the body, and this causes you 
terrible grief. Does not the saying of the Apostle touch you : 
'So that henceforth we know no one according to the flesh. 
And even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, 
yet now we know him so no longer 5 ? 2 Our body cannot be 
everlasting and enduring. It must fall that it may rise; it 
must be broken apart that it may rest and experience the end 
of sin. Indeed, we have known many in the flesh, but we 
know them now no longer. We knew our Lord Jesus Himself, 
says the Apostle, according to the flesh, 'and now we know 
him so no longer.' For He had already laid away the body's 
covering; He was seen no more in the guise of man; now He 
had died for all and all have died in Him. But that they 
may be made anew through Him, and made alive in spirit, 
they live now not for themselves, they live for Christ. Else- 
where the same Apostle says: c lt is now no longer I that live 
but Christ lives in me.' 3 

It is but just that before he knew Christ according to the 
flesh he already knew His works, though not seeing them. He 
studied now not His flesh but His power, and, as a persecutor, 
with hostile animosity overwhelmed the disciples of the 
Man, His followers in the flesh. Yet, later, he became the 
teacher of the Gentiles and began to teach and rear for the 
preaching of the Gospel those who venerated His majesty. In 
fact, he adds: c lf any man is in Christ, he is a new creature/ 4 
that is, one perfect in Christ is a new creature, because one 
who is in the flesh is imperfect. The Lord Jesus Himself 
says: 'My spirit shall not remain in man forever, because he 
is flesh.' 5 A man in the flesh is not in Christ, but if one is in 
Christ he is a new creature, formed in the newness not of 
nature, but of grace. The old things according to the flesh 

2 2 Cor. 5.16. 

3 Gal. 2.20. 

4 2 Cor. 5.17. 

5 Gen. 6.3. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



419 



have passed away, all have become new. If the scribe in- 
structed in the kingdom of heaven knows not these things, 6 he 
is like the householder who brings from his treasure new things 
and old, not old without new, or new without old. So the 
Church says: The new and the old I have kept for thee.' 7 
The old have passed away, that is, the hidden mysteries of 
the Law have all been made new in Christ. 

This is the new creature of whom the Apostle speaks to 
the Galatians: Tor in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is of 
any avail, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature/ 8 through 
which the flesh now renewed flourishes and, having borne 
the thorns of inveterate sin in the past, finds now the fruit of 
grace. What need is there for us to grieve if now it is said to 
the soul: 'Thy youth is renewed like the eagle's'? 9 Why do 
we lament the dead when the reconcilation of the world with 
God the Father has already been made through the Lord 
Jesus? 10 

Having the blessings of Christ, we act as ambassadors for 
Christ, not only to all, but also to you, that you may know 
that His gifts are irrevocable, that you may believe what you 
have always believed, and not bring your understanding into 
doubt owing to your exceedingly great grief. For our Lord 
Jesus became sin to take away the sin of the world, 11 and 
that we might all be made in Him the justice of God, 12 no 
longer entangled in sin but sure of a reward for justice. 

Farewell, and love us, for we love you. 

6 Matt. 13.52. 

7 Cant. 7.13. 

8 Gal. 5.6. 

9 Ps. 102.5. 

10 Cf. 2 Cor. 5.18. 

11 Cf. John 1.29. 

12 Cf. 2 Cor. 5.21. 



420 SAINT AMBROSE 

74. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings (c. 387) 

You have made a wise decision to seek an answer to the 
question whether there is some difference in God's love of 
those who have had the faith since childhood and of those 
who have believed only in the course of youth or later man- 
hood. Holy Scripture has not failed to note this problem, nor 
has it left the matter untouched. Indeed, the Lord our God 
said meaningfully to the Prophet Joel: 'Lament with me 
over my spouse in sackcloth and for the husband of her 
youth,' 1 while He wept either for the synagogue that formerly, 
in her virginity, had been espoused to the Word of God, or 
perhaps for a soul that had fallen from grace. Her offense 
had led her into serious crimes so that she became hated 
and, having been cast aside because of her stain of impurity 
and the foul marks of wickedness and the stains of unbelief, 
she became an object of pity and a person despised, far 
removed from the grace of that spouse who had been worthy 
to hear the words: e l will espouse thee to me in faith and 
justice and mercy.' 2 

There is good cause to consider her an object of pity since 
she has lost her claim to a reward and experienced so heavy 
a loss of the dowry of virtue that she has been deprived of 
the spouse of her virginity. According to our merits the Word 
of God either lives or dies in us. If our desires and works are 
good, the Word of God lives and works in us; if our thoughts 
and deeds are dark, the Sun of Justice goes down. 3 He 
teaches us to lament for such a soul. For, as those who have 
the bridegroom must rejoice and feast, so must that soul 
mourn when the spouse has been taken away, as it is said of 
the Apostles in the Gospel : 'for when the bridegroom shall be 
taken away from them, then will they fast in those days.' 4 

1 Joel 1.8. 

2 Osee 2.19,20. 

3 Cf. Mai. 4.2. 

4 Matt. 9J5. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 42 1 

This soul, therefore, formerly experienced joy and gladness, 
when she had the Virgin Word. She did not fast, since those 
were the days for feasting and banqueting; the Bridegroom 
was present, lavishing on all the riches of plenty, the stores of 
heavenly food, and the flow of wine which gladdens the hearts 
of men. 6 But, after she had lost the Bridegroom through her 
deeds, she was ordered to do penance in sackcloth for her 
sins and to weep for herself because Christ who is the Virgin 
Word died and was crucified for her. 

Sometimes a soul is espoused at an early age and never 
bears any other yoke, but from the beginning vows the virginal 
flower of her faith to Christ and is united to Him from the 
first in mysteries of piety, receiving a training in holiness as 
the heifer does the yoke. This is the soul of Jewish stock, 
from the race of ancient patriarchs, who, if she had kept her 
course of faith unstumbling, would have been counted worthy 
of great merit, the virginal spouse of the Word, as the woman 
who took hold of justice and went to meet him like a mother, 
and will receive him like a wife married of a virgin. 6 

The other, too, has been taken from the Gentiles; each is 
spouse of the one Word, and this is a great mystery. This is 
shown you in the Book of Kings: 7 David had two wives, 
Achinaa the Jezrahelite, and Abigail whom he took later. 
The first was somewhat severe, the other full of mercy and 
graciousness, a kindly and generous soul who saw the Father 
with face unveiled, gazing on His glory. She received that 
heavenly dew of the grace of the Father, as her name is 
interpreted. What is the dew of the Father but the Word of 
God, which fills the hearts of all with the waters of faith and 
justice? 

Beautifully does the true David say to this soul what was 
said to Abigail: 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who 

5 Cf. Ps. 103.15. 

6 Cf. Eccli. 15.2. 

7 Cf. 1 Kings 25.39. 



422 SAINT AMBROSE 

sent thee this day to meet me, and blessed be thy customs.' 
And again He says to her: 'Go in peace into thy house, 
behold now I have heard thy voice and have honored thy 
face. 58 In the Canticles, too, these are the words of the 
bridegroom to his bride: 'Show me thy face and let me hear 
thy voice.' 9 

Then she was sent away, since she had another husband 
who was called, in Hebrew, Nabal, which, in Latin, means 
foolish, harsh, unkind, ungentle, ungrateful, for he did not 
know how to show gratitude. Later, when her husband died, 
David the Prophet took her as his wife, since she was set 
free from the law of her husband. Through this union is 
signified the mystery of the Church of the Gentiles which 
would believe, for, after losing her husband to whom she was 
at first united, she made her way to Christ, bringing & dowry 
of piety, of humility, and of faith, and enriched with the 
heritage of mercy. 

But here it is not this wife who is deplored, but Achinaa 
who was hostile to her brother, so that her brother made 
trouble for her. And in their persons it is said: 'Thou hast 
made us a byword among the heathens, a shaking of the head 
among the people. 510 And the Devil, finding her off guard, 
tore her like a lion and took away her beauty, and overturned 
her vineyard and fig tree 11 where everyone used to rest, and 
he made her harvest wither. 

God had pity when they were parched and white with 
drought, and He said to the Prophet : 'Lament with rne over 
my spouse wearing a sackcloth, over the husband of her 
youth,' 12 that is to say, over the dead husband of a soul of 
this sort, or over the synagogue. In another place, too, He 

8 1 Kings 25.32,35. 

9 Cant. 2.14. 

10 Ps. 43.15. 

11 Cf. Mich. 4.4. 

12 Joel 1.8. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 423 

shows His disapproval 13 because she had forgotten her pro- 
mise, forgotten her love, was unmindful of grace, strayed 
from obedience, and had lost her former affection as a wife. 
He reproves her with His words, recalling to her mind and 
repeating to her her tenderness, her expressions of devotion: 
'Did you not call me one of your household, the parent and 
pattern of your virginity? 3 

For that soul the Virgin Word is dead when the Word of 
God has died through unbelief. He suffers grief, He appoints 
an intercessor, so that she will be called to penance whereby 
she may earn compassion. She who is prudent in under- 
standing and beautiful to look upon, like Abigail, was won for 
Him in battle. Her adversaries were conquered, and her 
husband, who in the midst of spiritual wickedness struggled 
and fought so as not to lose his beautiful wife, is dead. So, 
like a victorious and loving spouse, he gives her sweetness 
and grace, cleansing from her all that might obscure her 
beauty. He takes off the garments of her captivity, laying 
aside even the hair of her head, that is, the curls of sin which 
seern to be superfluous parts of our person, because 'for a 
man to wear his hair long is degrading.' 14 Thus, in oneness 
of faith she may strive to reach to perfect manhood, to the 
mature measure of the fullness of Christ, 15 and, laying aside 
all the troubles of the soul, be grounded in love, and may grow 
up in the Lord Jesus, bringing growth to the whole body. 

This is the soul which the Law shows you in the guise of a 
good woman, for if you see her among the prizes of war and 
desire to have her as your wife: Thou shalt bring her/ he 
says, 'into thy house.' 16 And in order that you may give her 
the whole interior of your house, the possession of all your 
body, you may take away her raiment, you may cut off her 
transgressions, and with a razor which is not too sharp, lest 

13 Cf. Osee 4.6. 

14 1 Cor. 11.14. 

15 Cf. Eph. 4.13. 

16 Deut. 21.12. 



424 SAINT AMBROSE 

it come to evil, you may pare off the slough of your passion 
and your idle feelings. Therefore, 'You will shave her head,' 
he says, 'so that the eyes of the wise man, which are in his 
head, will suffer no harm. 517 'And she will sit/ he says, 
'thirty days in thy house,' 18 lamenting the sins of her 
generation, the lies of her wicked father, the Devil, who 
wishes to gather what he has not sown. 19 Then, being 
cleansed by the purification of this mystical number, she 
may get possession of the keys of marriage. 

Very aptly he says: 'And after that thou shalt go into her,' 
to enter completely into your soul, and recollect yourself 
within her, and dwell in her, and stay with her, letting all 
your life be in her. So you will be not in the flesh but in the 
spirit, and endeavor to bring her to share your life, knowing 
she will give you of her goods. Enjoying her favor, may you 
say: 'And I was a witty child and had received a good soul/ 20 
And she will answer: 'I will take you, and bring you into my 
mother's house, into the chamber of her that bore me.' The 
good mother of souls is that Jerusalem which is in heaven. 

She will be your wife and, finding you, she will kiss you. 
And if afterwards she please you not, 21 because she chastises 
her body and brings it into subjection, you will not allow her 
to be a slave, that is, to the pleasures of the body, nor will 
you make her a subject of the flesh, but let her remain free. 
You will not let her go, for that is to sell her; you will not 
despise her, but you will allow her to serve her God in purity 
of faith and in the sobriety of good works. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



17 Eccle. 2.14, 

18 Deut. 21.13. 

19 Cf. Jer. 17.11. 

20 Cant. 3.4. 

21 Cf. Deut. 21.14. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 425 

75. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings (c. 387 ) l 

'The partridge has spoken, she has fostered a brood which 
is not hers.' 2 I should like to borrow the beginning of this 
letter from the close of my last. It has been frequently dis- 
cussed, so, in order that we may be able to solve it, let us 
consider what natural history tells us regarding the nature of 
this bird. 3 It is the part of no small wisdom to ponder this, 
for Solomon understood the nature of animals and discoursed 
on flocks, birds, reptiles, and fish. 4 

This bird is said to be full of craft, fraud, and guile, expert 
in deceiving a fowler, and experienced in turning him aside 
from her own brood, since she omits no trial of any action to 
draw off the hunter from her nest and hiding place. Indeed, 
if she sees him approach, she sports about long enough to 
give the young the signal and the opportunity of getting 
away. When she knows they are gone, she, too, takes herself 
off, leaving her enemy tricked by her crafty wiles. 5 

It is also said that she is a promiscuous bird, and the males 
rush on the females with great force and burn with unre- 
strained desires. Therefore it is thought suitable to compare 
this unclean, evil-minded, deceptive animal to the adversary 
and deceitful circumventor of the human race, the author 
of uncleanness. 6 



1 Waghorn has been followed here in assigning this letter to Irenaeus 
rather than to Sabinus, as does Palanque. Although the opening words 
do follow the concluding text of Letter 27, to Sabinus, the testimony 
of the mss., Ambrose's tone of instruction to a disciple, and the pre- 
sence in Letter 74 of the Scripture passage from Jeremias from which 
this letter stems all of these arguments have been carefully weighed 
by Waghorn (7-9) . 

2 Jer. 17.11. 

3 Several ancient authors, e.g., Aristotle Hist. Anim. 9.8,613B-614A, 
describe the cleverness of the partridge with hunters. 

4 Cf. 3 Kings 4.33. 

5 Cf. Virgil, Aen. 11.716. 

6 The Benedictine editors give the number 3 to this and the following 
paragraph. 



426 SAINT AMBROSE 

The partridge, which derives its name from perdition/ is 
called Satan; in Latin, the Devil. He spoke first in^Eve, 8 he 
spoke in Cain, he spoke in Pharao, 9 in Dathan, Abiron, and 
Core. 10 He spoke in the Jews when they asked that gods be 
made for them while Moses was receiving the Law. He 
spoke again when they said of the Saviour: 'Let him be 
crucified, let him be crucified 5 ; and 'His blood be on us and 
on our children.' 11 He spoke when they wanted Him to be 
made king so that they might not walk with the Lord God 
their king. 12 He spoke in every vain and wicked man. 

With these words he has fostered a people who are not his 
creation, for God made man to His own image and likeness, 13 
and the Devil formed a fellowship with man by the cunning 
of his words. He has fostered the people of the Gentiles, 
acquiring riches without judgment. Therefore in the proverb 
it is said of the greedy rich man that the partridge fostered 
riches without judgment. But my Jesus, like a good judge, 
does all with judgment, for He comes, as it is written, saying: 
C I speak justice and the judgment of salvation.' 14 

Therefore, He has robbed that partridge, the Devil, of 
favor; He has taken from him the riches of the multitude 
which evil fostered; He has called back the souls of the 
Gentiles from error and the hearts of nations which were going 
astray. And because He knew that they were deceived by 
the words of the Devil, He Himself, to loosen the chains and 
bonds of long-standing error, spoke first in Abel, whose voice 
of blood cried out. 15 He spoke in Moses to whom He said: 

7 Ambrose here draws a false etymology for the word perdix from 

perdo; the latter comes from per and do. 
S Cf. Gen. 3.4,5- 
9 Cf. Exod. 5.2. 

10 Cf. Num. 16.2. 

11 Matt. 27.23,25. 

12 Cf. 1 Kings 8.5. 

13 Cf. Gen. 1.27. 

14 Isa. 63.1, 

15 Cf. Gen. 4.10. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



427 



'Why criest thou to me?' 16 He spoke in Josue son of Nun. 17 
He spoke in David, who said: 'I cried to thee; save me. 518 
He spoke in all the Prophets. So He says to Isaias: 'Cry'; and 
he said: 'What shall I cry?' 19 He spoke in Solomon, calling 
to him with a mighty prophecy and wisdom: 'Come, eat my 
bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you.' 20 
He spoke in His own body like the beetle in the wood. 21 He 
spoke to undo the Devil and overthrow him, saying: 'My 
God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' 22 He spoke to 
strip him of his spoil when He said to the thief: 'Amen, 
Amen, I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in 
paradise.' 23 Thus, when Jesus spoke, that partridge was aban- 
doned by his brood in the midst of his days. 

Some persons have thought they should adopt that custom 
of the partridge whereby she takes another's eggs, warms them 
with her body, and tries by this false means to get the off- 
spring of others. But (as they say to deceive the wary, for 
even birds have certain tricks) when [the true mother] notices 
either that the eggs have been seized, or the nest entered, or 
the young harassed, deceived by false pretenses or deceptive 
appearances, although she is the weaker one, she clothes and 
arms herself with cunning. Then, when all the labor expended 
on food has exhausted the one who is rearing them, when 
the chicks begin to grow, she [the true mother] utters a cry 
and with a sort of trumpet of love calls her brood to her. 
They, roused with certain natural feelings, recognize their 
parent and abandon her who had played them false. So, 
when the one wishes to foster those who are not her brood, 
she loses those whom she thought she would feed. 

16 Exod. 14.15. 

17 Cf. Josue 1.1. 

18 Ps. 118.146. 

19 Isa. 40.6, 

20 Prov. 9.5. 

21 Cf. Hab. 2.11. 

22 Matt. 27.46. 

23 Luke 23.43. 



428 SAINT AMBROSE 

Not without profit has Jesus spoken, since the people of the 
world, deceived by the words of the partridge, by his charms, 
skill, and appearance, had strayed from their origin, follow- 
ing deceitful ways. 24 Yet, called back by the words of their 
true parent, they will abandon the deceiver and desert his 
fraudulent practice in the midst of his days, that is, before 
the end of the world, whither our Lord is drawing us, 
calling us to eternal life. Now, dead to the world, we live 
to God. 25 

As the partridge will be utterly abandoned by her false 
children, then will the foolish man be saved whom God chose, 
and confounded the wise, for God chooses the foolish things 
of the world. So, if anyone seems to be wise in this world, let 
him become foolish, that he may be wise. 26 

Farewell, son, and love us as you do, since we love you. 



76* Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings (c. 387) 

In our last letter we wrote that we should set our soul free 
from its enemies and form with it a bond of unbreakable 
living. And since this discourse caused us to use an example 
from Deuteronomy 1 where it treats of the man who had two 
wives, the one lovable, the other hateful, you seem rightly 
disturbed lest someone think he has received two souls, for 
this cannot be. 

Indeed, you know very well that sometimes, when Scripture 
uses an allegory, it may refer at one time to the type of the 
synagogue, and at another to the type of the Church; some- 

24 Cf. Virgil, Aeneid 11.716. 

25 Cf. Rom. 6.8. 

26 Cf. 1 Cor. 1.27. 



1 Cf. DeuL 21.16. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 429 

times to the soul, at another time to the mystery of the Word, 
and at other times to different types and kinds of souls. He 
who judges by the spirit makes this distinction. Thus, in the 
following chapter of the Law, I think that not two souls but 
different qualities of the one soul are meant. For, that type 
of soul is lovable which desires pleasures, flees hardships, shies 
away from penance, and heeds not the judgment of God. 
Indeed, the lovable one, because she seems sweet and pleasing 
on occasion, does not influence the heart but merely gives 
pleasure. The other is more serious, for she is consumed with 
zeal for God, and like an earnest wife would not wish to 
prostitute her partner; she makes no allowances for her body, 
does not permit or grant it any indulgence, gives no rein to 
pleasure and delight, flees the hiding places of shameful deeds, 
engages in hard labor and dire dangers. 

If, in these circumstances, each bears him a child, he will 
be unable in establishing his will, he says, to show preference 
to the eldest son of the lovable wife in place of the eldest son 
of the hateful wife, since he knows the son of the hateful one 
is the eldest. In this I think it is not meant to typify simply a 
case of preference between the two eldest as much as to 
express the fact that the son of the hated one has the rights 
of the eldest. For, the eldest is the first-born, and the saints 
are the first-born, because 'every male that opens the womb 
shall be called holy to the Lord.' 2 Yet, not every first-born is 
holy, for Esau was not holy although he was the first-born. 

But the saints are the first-born, for you have in Numbers : 
*Lo, I have taken the Levites from the midst of the children 
of Israel in place of every first-born who opens the womb 
among the children of Israel. Every first-born of Israel is 
mine since the day when I struck every first-born of Egypt. 53 
Accordingly, He receives the Levites instead of the first-born, 

2 Exod. 13.2; Luke 2.23. 

3 Num. 3.12,13. 



430 SAINT AMBROSE 

just as He does the saints. We know from the Epistle to the 
Hebrews that the saints are first-born, for there you have: 
'But you have come to Mount Sion, and to the city of 
Jerusalem, and to the company of ten thousands of angels 
and to the church of the first-born.' 4 Thus, as the first-born 
of the Church are the saints, so also are the Levites, since 
they also are first-born. They are not holy through their 
order of birth, but by reason of their duty of holiness. For 
Levi was the third son of Lia, not the first. 5 

One who is sanctified opens the womb. What womb? Hear 
the words; 'The wicked have departed from the womb.' 6 In 
fact, you know that the first-born is one who opens the womb ; 
understand the womb of the good mother from whom the holy 
do not depart, but sinners do. But the Levites are taken from 
the midst of Israel, for they have nothing in common with 
the people whose worldly first-born are destroyed. The 
first-born of the world are of another mother, from whose 
womb Paul was separated when he was called to the grace 
of God. 7 Thus separated from the midst of the people, he 
received the Word, which is in the midst of our heart. So it 
is said : 'But in the midst of you there stands one whom you 
do not see.' 8 

That was not a purposeless digression which we made 
from one Law to another in order to demonstrate that the 
first-born is not the son of the lovable one, that is, of relaxa- 
tion and pleasure, although the words of the chapter express 
this when Scripture says: c He will be unable to prefer the 
eldest son of the loving wife since he knows the son of the 
hateful one is the eldest/ 9 He is truly the eldest who is the 
holy offspring of a holy mother, like the true mother from 
whose womb true sons do not depart, but sinners do. So, he 

4 Heb. 12.22,23. 

5 Cf. Gen. 29.34. 

6 Ps. 57.4. 

7 Cf. Gal. 1.15. 

8 John 1.26. 

9 Deut. 21.17. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 431 

who Is son not of a true mother is not true eldest, but like an 
eldest son he is helped by riches so that he will not be in 
need; he is not honored that he may be rich. The other is 
given twice as much from all so that he will abound. For 
this reason, you have in Genesis the patriarchs each given two 
robes by their brother Joseph when they were sent back to 
their father, to signify to the father that Joseph was found 
whom the father believed to be dead. 

The first-born, therefore, received the right of inheritance 
when Scripture said: This is the beginning of his children, 
and to him are due the first birthrights/ 10 The first-born 
saints are of the first-born Son of God; from that beginning, 
because He is the beginning and the end, 11 the saint takes 
his beginning; the son to whom is due the privilege of the 
first-fruits takes his beginning according to the saying of 
Abraham: 'Cast out the slave-girl with her son; for the son 
of this slave-girl shall not be heir with my son Isaac. 312 

This is meant by divine Revelation to refer more to the 
inheriting of virtues than of money, when the Lord says: 
'Heed all that Sara says to you; for through Isaac shall your 
descendants be called. 513 What other thing was there in 
Isaac which ennobled his father if not the inheriting of 
sanctity? Indeed, he put the son of the slave-girl over nations, 
handing over, as it were, the full amount of his patrimony. 
But he gave double the amount to the son of Sara, on whom 
were conferred not only temporal but heavenly and ever- 
lasting blessings. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 

10 ibid. 

11 Cf. Apoc. 1.8. 

12 Gen. 21.10. 

13 Gen. 21.12. 



43 2 SAINT AMBROSE 

77. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings 1 

You asked me why the Lord God does not now rain down 
manna as He did on our fathers' people. If you reflect, you 
will realize that He does, even daily, rain down manna from 
heaven upon His servants. In fact, a corporeal manna is 
found today in many places, but it is not now a matter of 
such great wonder, because that which is perfect has come. 2 
That which is perfect is the Bread from heaven, the Body 
from a virgin, of which the Gospel tells us with sufficiency. 
How much more excellent this is than what went before! 
Those who ate that manna, or bread, are dead, but he who 
eats this Bread will live forever, 3 

But there is also a spiritual manna, the dew of spiritual 
wisdom, which is shed from heaven upon those who are 
resourceful and in search of it. This waters the minds of the 
pious and puts sweetness into their mouths. Whoever ex- 
periences this downpour of divine Wisdom is delighted, and, 
needing no other food, lives not on bread alone but on every 
word of God. 4 One who is more diligent seeks that which is 
sweeter than honey. God's servant says to him: 'This is the 
bread which God gave you to eat.' Hear what that bread is : 
The word, 5 he says, 'which God hath commanded/ 5 This 
food, the command of God, nourishes the soul of the wise 
man, illumining and sweetening, shining with the gleam of 
truth, blending, as with honeycomb, the sweetness of many 
virtues and the word of Wisdom, for 'Well ordered words 
are as a honeycomb/ 6 as it is written in Proverbs. 

Now, hear why it was small : because the grain of mustard 
seed which is compared to the kingdom of heaven 7 is very 

1 Undated. 

2 Cf. 1 Cor. 13.10. 

3 Cf. John 6.5. 

4 Cf. Matt. 4.4. 

5 Exod. 16.15,16. 

6 Prov. 16.24. 

7 Cf. Luke 13.19. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 433 

small, and faith, which is like a grain of mustard seed, can 
move mountains and cast them into the sea. 8 Again, 'The 
kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and 
buried in three measures of flour, until all of it was leavened.' 9 
Likewise, Moses ground the head of the golden calf into 
powder and strewed it in the water and gave it to the people 
to drink, 10 for their heart had been fattened with the great 
mass of wickedness, and he did this so that it might be 
softened and refined by faith. Lastly, the woman who grinds 
well will be taken, but she who grinds ill will be left. 

Do you, therefore, grind your faith so that you may be 
like the soul which excites in itself the love of Christ, which 
the powers of heaven admire as it mounts up, that it may 
rise easily and soar above this world with joy and gladness. 
Like the vine, put forth branches, and like srnoke, rise on 
high, shedding the odor of a holy resurrection and the sweet- 
ness of faith, as you have it written: 'Who is she that goeth 
up by the desert like a branch of the vine burning with smoke, 
fragrant with myrrh and frankincense, and with all the 
powders of the perfumer? 511 

Very aptly has the sacred writer described its refined nature, 
comparing it with powder or perfume, for we read in Exodus 
that thyme, a prophetic incense, was very refined and com- 
pounded of many things, for it was the prayer of the saints. 
Thus, it may be directed into the sight of the Lord, as David 
says: 'Let my prayer arise like incense unto thee.' 12 And in 
the Greek also says the same. 13 And in the Apocalypse of 
John we read that 'An angel stood before the altar, having a 
golden censer, and there was given to him much incense, 
from the prayers of all the saints. And,' he says, 'the incense, 

8 Cf. Luke 17.6. 

9 Luke 13.21. 

10 Cf. Exod. 32.20. 

11 Cant. 3.6. 

12 Ps. 140.2. 

13 Ambrose here quotes the passage in Greek, 



434 SAINT AMBROSE 

the smoke of the prayers of the saints, went from the hand of 
the angel before the sight of God.' 14 

Small, too, are the navel and belly of the soul which 
ascends to Christ. Therefore, it is praised in the words of the 
spouse who says: Thy navel is like a round bowl never 
wanting wine, thy belly is like a heap of tiny wheat among 
lilies. 515 It is polished by all kinds of learning and it is a 
spiritual draught never failing in fullness and in the knowl- 
edge of heavenly secrets. The belly of the soul is mystic,- like 
the navel, and it receives not only strong food to strengthen 
hearts, but sweet and fragrant food by which it is delighted. 
Perhaps Moses meant that this sacrilege 16 needs to be atoned 
for by many and pious prayers. 

In the Book of Kings, also, when the Lord revealed Him- 
self to holy Elias, the whistling of a gentle breeze first came 
and then the Lord revealed Himself to him. 17 Thus we may 
learn that bodily things are fat and gross, spiritual things are 
tender and fine and cannot be perceived with the eye. The 
Spirit of Wisdom is described in the Book of Wisdom as 
subtle and lively, 18 because in her is the spirit of understand- 
ing, holy, one, manifold, subtle, lively; and she grinds her 
words before speaking so that she may not offend in any 
mode or meaning. Finally, it will be said to Babylon when 
she is about to be destroyed: 'And sound of millstone will 
not be heard in thee any more. 519 

This manna, therefore, was fine and it was gathered each 
day, not kept for the day following, because what wisdom 
finds in a moment is more pleasing, nor is that more admirable 
for being found in leisure time than what is struck at once 
from the spark of genius. It may be that future mysteries are 
revealed : the manna kept until sunrise is unfit to be eaten 

14 Apoc. 8.2-4. 

15 Cant. 7.2. 

16 I. e., the making and adoring of the golden calf. 

17 CL 3 Kings 19.21. 

18 Cf. Wisd. 7.22. 

19 Apoc. 18.22. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



435 



that is, it had grace only until the coming of Christ. When 
the Sun of Justice arose, arfd the more resplendent sacraments 
of Christ's Body and JEJtood gleamed, lesser things came to an 
end and the people were to take that which is more perfect. 
Farewell, and love us, because we also love you. 



78. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings 1 

As if you were my son, you have referred to me the 
question others have asked of you, why the Law was so severe 
in pronouncing unclean those persons who wear garments of 
the other sex, whether men or women, for it is written: *Let 
not men's apparel cover a woman, neither shall a man be 
clothed with a woman's garment, for he that doeth these 
things is abominable before God.' 2 

If you investigate the matter well, what nature herself 
abhors must be unsuitable, for why do you want to seem not 
a man when you were born one? Why do you assume an 
appearance not yours? Why play the woman, or you, woman, 
the man? Nature clothes each sex in its proper raiment. 
Moreover, in men and women there are different customs, 
different complexion, different gestures, gait, and strength, 
different qualities of voice. 

In the animals of the rest of creation, too, the form, 
strength, and roar of the lion and lioness, of bull and heifer, 
are different. Among deer, also, the stag and hind differ as 
much in sex as in appearance, so that one can distinguish 
them from a distance. Between birds and men there is an 
even closer comparison regarding their clothing, for their 
natural covering distinguishes the sex in them. The peacock 
is very beautiful, but his mate does not have feathers so 

1 Undated. 

2 Deut. 22.5, 



436 SAINT AMBROSE 

variegated in color. Pheasants also have different colors to 
mark the distinction of sex. The same is true of chickens. 
How shrill is the cock's crow night after night performing its 
appointed task of rousing us and crowing! 3 They do not 
change their appearance. Why do we want to change ours? 
The custom prevailed in Greece for women to wear men's 
tunics because they were shorter. Let it be their custom to 
appear to imitate the nature of the better sex, but why should 
men want to assume the appearance of the inferior^ sex? 4 A 
falsehood in words is degrading, and so is it also in dress. 
That is why in heathen temples where falsification of faith 
abides, there is also falsification of nature. There it is con- 
sidered holy for men to assume women's clothing and female 
gestures. For this reason the Law declares that every man 
who puts on a woman's garment is an abomination to the 

Lord. 

I think it refers not so much to clothing as to manners and 
to our habits and actions, since one act is becoming to a 
man, another to a woman. Therefore, the Apostle, as the 
interpreter of the Law, says: 'Let your women keep silence 
in the churches, for it is not permitted them to speak, but to 
be submissive, as the Law says. But if they wish to learn 
anything let them ask their husbands at home.' 5 And to 
Timothy he says: 'Let a woman learn in silence with all 
submission. For I do not allow a woman to teach, or to 
exercise authority over men.' 6 

How unsightly it is for a man to act like a woman! Let 

'3 Cf. Ambrose's Hymn at Matins (Hymnus I, PL 17.1409) ; translated by 
W. J. Copeland and others, in Dom Matthew Britt, O.S.B., The Hymns 
of the Breviary and Missal (New York 1948) 21. 

4 Many early Councils forbade women to wear men's clothing and men 
to wear women's. For an example of the first prohibition, cf. Summa 
Gangrensis Concilii, Cap. 13: 'Ne mulieres virilem habitum usurpent,' 
Summa Conciliorum (Venice 1781) 75. 

5 1 Cor. 14.34,35. 

6 I Tim. 2.11,12. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



437 



those who curl their hair like women also conceive and bear 
children. The one sex is veiled; the other engages in war. 
There is an excuse for those who follow their native customs, 
barbarous as they are, the Persians, the Goths, the Armenians. 
But nature is greater than one's native land. 

What shall we say of those who consider it a sign of 
luxury to have in their service slaves wearing curls and orna- 
ments, while they themselves have long beards and the slaves 
have streaming hair? It is to be expected that chastity will be 
lost where the distinction of the sexes is not observed, and 
where nature lays down definite instruction, as the Apostle 
says: 'Does it become a woman to pray to God uncovered? 
Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear his 
hair long is degrading; but for a woman to wear her hair 
long is a glory to her? Because her hair has been given her as 
a covering.' 7 You must thus answer those who make inquiries. 

Farewell, and love us as a son, because we as a parent 
love you. 



79. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings (Summer, 393 ) l 

After resting my mind a while during my reading, turning 
from my intensive study, I began thinking of the versicle 
which we had used at first Vespers : 'Thou art beautiful above 
the sons of men/ 2 and also: 'How beautiful are the feet of 
those who bring good tidings.' 3 Truly, nothing is more 
beautiful than that Highest Good which is exceedingly 
beautiful to preach, the setting forth of a continuous dis- 

7 1 Cor. 11.13-15. 



1 Dudden dates this 387. 

2 Ps. 44.3; this is quoted in Greek. 

3 Isa. 52.7. 



438 SAINT AMBROSE 

course, and the footsteps, as It were, of the preaching of the 
Apostles. Who is capable of this? Those to whom God gave 
the power not only to announce Christ but also to suffer for 
Him. 

As far as we are able, let us give our attention to that 
which is beautiful, comely, and good; let us be occupied with 
it, let us hold it in mind, so that by its glow and light our 
souls may become lovely and our minds transparent. For, if 
our eyes are refreshed with green fields and beautiful groves, 
after being clouded by mist, or if grassy hills take away the 
blur of the sick man's gaze, while his pupils and eye-balls 
seem to take on color, how much more does the eye of the 
mind, when it gazes upon the Highest Good, turning to It 
and feeding on It, become bright and shining, and so fulfill 
the words of Scripture: c My soul shall be filled as with 
marrow and richness.' 4 One who wisely understands the souls 
of his flock cares for the grass of his field so that he will have 
large pastures, for the sweet grasses make the lambs fatter, 
and their milk is more healthful. The rich use these pastures, 
they who 'have eaten and adored,' 5 for it is the saint of God 
who is placed in these good pastures of faith. 

The flocks of sheep are also nourished with that hay which 
makes them produce fleeces of wisdom and provides them 
the mantle of prudence. Perhaps, too, this is the mountain 
hay 6 upon which the Prophet's words distilled 'like snow 
upon the hay.' 7 The wise man diligently seeks this so that his 
sheep may be a covering for him, a sort of spiritual cloak. 
Thus the soul which clings to the Highest Good, which is 
divine, has its own food and clothing. This is what the Apostle 
Peter urged us to search for, so that by acquiring this 
knowledge we may become partakers of the divine nature. 8 

The good God discloses a knowledge of this to His saints, 

4 PS. 62.6. 

5 Ps. 2L30. 

6 Cf. Prov. 27.35. 

7 Deut. 32.2. 

8 2 Peter 1.4. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



439 



bringing it forth from His good treasures as the sacred 
writing proves: The Lord swore to your fathers to give and 
open his excellent treasure.' 9 From this heavenly treasure He 
gives rain to His earth in order to bless all the works of your 
hands. The rain signifies the utterance of the Scripture which 
bedews the soul which is rich and plentiful in good works so 
that it may have the rain of grace. 10 

David went in search of the knowledge of this Good, as 
he himself declares: 'One thing I have asked of the Lord; 
this will I seek : that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all 
the days of my life, to enjoy the sweetness of the Lord and to 
behold his temple. 9 And he immediately adds in this psalm 
that this is the Highest Good : 'I believe that I shall see the 
good things of the Lord in the land of the living.' 11 Here 
[on earth] He is sought; there [in heaven] he will be fully 
seen lace to face. This Good is in the house of God, in His 
secret abode and sanctuary. Again he says : 'We shall be filled 
with the good things of thy house.' 12 In another place, too, 
he shows that this is the fullness of blessings: 'May the Lord 
bless thee out of Sion, that thou mayest see the welfare of 
Jerusalem.' 13 Blessed is he, therefore, who lives there in the 
entrance of faith, in the abode of the spirit, in the dwelling 
of devotion, in the life of virtue. 

Let us abide there and remain in Him of whom Isaias 
says: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach 
peace and preach good tidings!' 14 Who are those who preach 
except Peter, Paul, and all the Apostles? What do they 
preach to us except the Lord Jesus? 15 He is our peace, He is 
our Highest Good, for He is the Good from Good, and from 
a good tree is gathered good fruit. 16 Then, too, His spirit is 

9 Deut. 28.11,12. 

10 Cf. Deut. 32.2. 

11 Ps. 26.4,13. 

12 Ps. 64.5. 

13 Ps. 127.5. 

14 Isa. 52.7. 

15 Cf. 1 Cor. 1.1. 

16 Cf. Matt. 7.18. 



440 SAINT AMBROSE 

good, that Spirit which receives the servants of God from 
Him and brings them into the right way. 17 Let no one who 
has the Spirit of God in him deny that He is good, since He 
says Himself: 'Is thy eye evil because I am good?' 18 May 
there come into our soul, into our innermost heart, this Good 
which the kind God gives to those who ask Him. He is our 
Treasure; He is our Way; He is our Wisdom, our Righteous- 
ness, our Shepherd and the Good Shepherd; He is our Life. 
See the number of good things in the one Good ! 

The Evangelists preach these good things to us. David in 
search of these good things said: 'Who will show us good 
things?' And he shows that the Lord Himself is our Good, 
saying: 'The light of thy countenance is signed upon us.' 19 
Who is the light of the Father's countenance except the 
brightness of His glory, the image of the invisible God, 20 in 
whom the Father is both seen and glorified, as He also 
glorifies His Son? 21 

The Lord Jesus Himself, therefore, is the Highest Good 
whom the Prophets announced, the angels made known, the 
Father promised, and the Apostles preached. 22 He came to us 
like ripeness, and not only as ripeness but as ripeness in the 
mountains, so that in our counsels there would be no bitterness 
or unripeness, and in our actions and our manners there 
would be no harshness or hardness. He Himself was the 
first to preach good tidings to us and said: C I myself who 
spoke am here' ; 23 that is, I who spoke in the Prophets, I am 
present in the body which I took of a virgin; I am present, the 
inward likeness of God, the express image of His person; and 
I am present as man. But who knows Me? They saw a man, 

17 Cf. Ps. 142.10. 

18 Matt. 20.15. 

19 Osee 4.6. 

20 Heb. 1.3. 

21 Cf. John 17.5. 

22 Cf. 1 Tim. 3.16. 

23 Heb. 1.1,2. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 441 

yet they believed that His works were greater than man. Was 
it not as man that He wept for Lazarus, 24 and greater than 
man that He raised him from the dead? Again, was it not as 
man that He was scourged, and greater than man that He 
took away the sins of all the world? 25 

Let us hurry to Him in whom is that Highest Good, since 
He is Goodness Itself. He is the patience of Israel calling 
you to penance, so you will not come to judgment but may 
receive the remission of sins. 'Do penance,' he says. 26 He is 
the one of whom the Prophet Amos cries: 'Seek ye good.' 27 
He is the Highest Good, for He needs nothing and abounds 
in all things. Well may He abound, for in Him dwells bodily 
the fullness of divinity. 28 Well may He abound, of whose 
fullness we have all received, and in whom we have been 
filled, as the Evangelist says. 29 

If the soul, with its capacity for pleasure and delight, has 
tasted this True and Highest Good and has adhered to both 
with the means at her disposal, putting away sorrow and 
fear, then is she wonderfully inflamed. Having embraced the 
Word of God, she knows no bounds, she knows no satiety, 
and says: Thou art sweet, O Lord, and in thy joy teach 
me thy laws.' 30 Having embraced the Word of God, she 
desires Him above every beauty; she loves Him above every 
joy; she is delighted with Him above every perfume; she 
wishes often to see, often to gaze, often to be drawn to Him 
that she may follow. 'Thy name,' she says, 'is as oil poured 
out,' 31 and that is why we maidens love Thee, and vie with 
one another but cannot attain to Thee. Draw us that we 

24 Cf. John 11.35. 

25 Cf. John 1.29. 

26 Matt. 4.17. 

27 Amos 5.14. 

28 Cf. Col. 2.9. 

29 Cf. John 1.16. 

30 Ps. 118.68. 

31 Cant. 1.2. 



442 SAINT AMBROSE 

may run after Thee, that from the odor of ointments we 
may receive the power to follow Thee. 

The soul presses forward for a glimpse of hidden mysteries, 
to the very abode of the Word, to the very dwelling place of 
that Highest Good, and His light and brightness. In that 
bosom and secret dwelling place of the Father she hastens to 
hear His words, and having heard them she finds them 
sweeter than all things. Let the Prophet who has tasted this 
sweetness teach you, when he says : 'How sweet are thy words 
to my lips, above honeycomb to my mouth.' 32 What else can 
a soul desire when she has once tasted the sweetness of the 
Word, when she has once seen its brightness? When Moses 
remained on the mountain forty days to receive the Law, he 
had no need of food for the body. 33 Elias, going to that rest, 
asked that his soul be taken away from him. 34 Even Peter 
himself, foreseeing on the mountain the glory of the Lord's 
Resurrection, did not wish to come down, and said : 'Lord, it 
is good for us to be here.' 35 How great is the glory of that 
Divine Essence, how great the graces of the Word at which 
even angels wish to gaze! 36 

The soul which beholds this Highest Good needs not the 
body, and, knowing that she should have very little familiarity 
with it, she shuns the world, she withdraws herself from the 
chains of the flesh, she casts off all the bonds of earthly 
pleasure. Thus Stephen beheld Jesus and had no fear of being 
stoned; in fact, while he was being stoned he prayed, not for 
himself, but for those by whom he was being murdered. 37 
Paul, too, caught up into the third heaven, did not know 
whether he was in the body or out of it; caught, I say, into 
paradise, he no longer had need of the body, and after hear- 

32 PS. 118.103. 

33 Cf. Exod. 34.28. 

34 Cf. 3 Kings 19.4. 

35 Matt. 17.4. 

36 Cf. 1 Peter U2. 

37 Cf. Acts 7.55-60. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 443 

ing the word of God he was ashamed to descend to the 
infirmities of the body. 38 

With the knowledge of what he had seen and heard in 
paradise, he cried out saying: 'Why, as if still viewing from 
the world do you lay down rules: "Do not touch; nor handle; 
nor taste!" things which must all perish in their very use!' 39 
He wished us to be in the world in figure, not in actual 
possession and use of it; so to use the world as if we did not 
use it, as if we were but passing through, 40 not residing in it, 
walking through as in a dream, not with desire, so that with 
the speed of thought we might pass through the shadow of 
this world. He himself, too, walking by faith, not by sight, 
was a pilgrim from the body and present with the Lord, and 
although he was on earth, his conversation was not on earth, 
but in heaven. 

Therefore, let the soul which wishes to approach God 
raise herself from the body and cling always to that Highest 
Good which is divine, and lasts forever, and which was from 
the beginning and which was with God, 40 that is, the Word 
of God. This is the Divine Being 'in which we live and are 
and move.' 42 This was in the beginning, this is: The Son of 
God, Jesus Christ in you,' he says, 'in whom there was not 
Yes and No, but only Yes was in him.' 43 He Himself told 
Moses to say: 'HE WHO is hath sent me.' 44 

Let our soul be with this Good, and, if possible, let it be 
there always, so that it can be said of us: 'My soul is always 
in thy hands.' 45 Such will be the case if it is not in the body, 
but in the spirit, if it does not entangle itself with things of 
earth. When it is concerned with the flesh, then the charms 

38 Cf. 2 Cor. 12.2-5. 

39 Col. 2.20-22. 

40 Cf. 1 Cor. 7.31. 

41 Cf. John 1.1. 

42 Acts 17.28. 

43 2 Cor. 1.19. 

44 Exod. 3.14. 

45 Ps. 118.109. 



444 SAINT AMBROSE 

of the body creep over it, it tosses with anger and indignation, 
it is afflicted with sadness, it is cast down through arrogance, 
it is troubled with sorrow. 

These are the dangerous illnesses of the soul by which it is 
often brought near death and its eyes are so blinded that they 
do not see the light of true glory and the richness of the 
eternal inheritance. But, if it keeps them always^ fixed on 
God, it will receive from Christ the splendor of wisdom, so 
that it will have its gaze illumined by the knowledge of God, 
and look upon the hope of our calling, and gaze on that 
which is good, well-pleasing, and perfect. The good is well- 
pleasing to the Father. That which is well-pleasing is perfect, 
as you read in the Gospel where the Lord says: Love your 
enemies, so that you may imitate your Father, who sends 
rain on the just and the unjust. 5 This proves what constitutes 
goodness. Later He concludes, saying: 'Be ye perfect, as your 
Father who is in heaven is perfect/ 46 Charity is perfect; it is 
the fulfilling of the law. Tor what is so good' as charity 
which thinks no evil? 

Flee the regions where enmity, ambition, and contention 
have their dwelling. Let your soul open itself to grasp this 
good so that it may fly above the clouds, that it may be 
renewed like the eagle, and like the eagle spreading its wings 
with new vigor in its pinions, it may not fear to soar aloft, 47 
to leave this earth, because an earthly habitation weighs down 
the soul. 48 Let it put off the old, let it lay aside the desire for 
evil, let it wash clean its eyes so that it may see the fount of 
true wisdom, the fount of eternal life, which flows and pours 
itself upon all and has no needs. Who has ever given Him 
anything, since c from Him, and through Him, and in Him' 49 
are all things? 

46 Matt. 5.44,45,48. 

47 Cf. Virgil, Aeneid 5.508,618. 

48 Wisd. 9.15. 

49 Rom. 11.36. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 445 

The fount of life is that Highest Good which bestows the 
substance of life on all, because it has life abiding in itself. 
It receives from no one as though it were needy; it lavishes 
goods upon all and borrows from others nothing for itself, 
for it has no need of us. It says, too, in the person of man- 
kind: 'You do not need my goods.' 50 What is more lovely 
than to approach Him and cling to Him? What pleasure can 
be greater? What else can he desire who sees and tastes freely 
of this fount of living water? what realms? what powers? 
what riches? when he sees how pitiable are the condition? 
of kings, how changeable the status of their power, how short 
the span of this life, in how great bondage even sovereigns 
must live, since they live at the will of others and not their 
own. 

Does any rich man make his way to eternal life unless he is 
provided with money, the riches of virtue, the portion of all, 
the only thing a rich man cannot have? Happiness does not 
consist in using, but in seeing how you may despise these 
riches, how you may consider them void of truth, judge them 
vain and useless, 51 and love, instead, the beauty of naked 
truth which discloses the utterly false vanities of the world. 

Lift up your eyes, then, my soul, those eyes of which the 
Word of God says to you: 'Thou hast wounded me in the 
heart, O my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded me in the 
heart with one of thine eyes.' 52 Go up to the palm, overcome 
the world so that you may reach the height of the Word. 
Leave aside the vain show of this world, leave aside its 
wickedness. Bring, rather, goodness of heart which possesses 
grace in the tree of life, provided she will wash her robes and 
enter the city which is the true grace of the saints. There is 
the tabernacle of God, around which the scribes of the Lord 
are encamped, where neither day nor sun nor moon provide 
light, but the Lord Himself is the light illuminating that whole 

50 Ps. 15.2. 

51 Cf. Virgil, Aeneid 10.630. 

52 Cant. 4.8. 



446 SAINT AMBROSE 

city, 53 for He is the Light of the world, 54 Surely, He is not a 
visible light, but He is the brilliance of the mind in the souls 
of men, upon whom He pours Himself with the radiant light 
of wisdom and reason, which the Gospel says inspires the 
inmost soul with the warmth of His spiritual power. 55 

If a man has taken up his residence in that heavenly city, 
let him not leave its life and customs, since he is an 
inhabitant. Let him not again depart, nor retrace the steps, 
I do not say, of the body, but of the heart. Let him not come 
back from there. Behind him. is wantonness; behind is im- 
purity. When Lot went to the mountains, he left behind the 
sins of Sodom, but the woman who looked back could not 
reach the higher ground. 56 Your feet should not turn back, 
neither should your actions turn back. Your hands should 
not hang idle, nor should the knees of your devotion and 
faith become weak. Let no weakness cause your will to 
backslide, nor evil deeds recur. You have made your entrance, 
now remain. You have reached this place, stand firm. e Being 
safe, save thy life.' 57 

In your ascent, take the straight path; it is not safe to turn 
back. Here is the road; there is downfall. Here is the path 
upward; there, a precipice. There is work in ascending, 
danger in descending. The Lord who is powerful will protect 
you if you are grounded and hedged round with the ramparts 
of the Prophets and the bulwarks of the Apostles. For this 
reason, the Lord says to you: 'Enter and tread the grape, 
for the vintage time is here.' 58 Let us be found within, not out 
of doors. In the Gospel, too, the Son of God says: 'Let him 
who is on the housetop not go down to take his vessels.' 59 

53 a. Apoc. 21.23. 

54 Cf. John 8.12. 

55 Cf. Luke 24.32. 

56 Gen. 19.30. 

57 Gen. 19.17. 

58 Joel 3.13. 

59 Luke 17.31. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 447 

Surely, He does not mean our present dwelling but that one 
of which c He has spread the sky like a roof.' 60 

Remain within, therefore, within Jerusalem, within your 
soul which is peaceful, meek, and tranquil. Do not leave it or 
go down to take your vessels with honors or riches or pride. 
Remain within, so that strangers may not pass through you, so 
that neither sins nor vain works nor useless thoughts may 
pass through your soul. This will not happen if you wage a 
holy war against the snare of the passions in behalf of 
devotion and faith and in the pursuit of truth, if you will 
put on the armor of God in your fight against spiritual 
diseases and the cunning of the Devil who tempts our senses 
with cunning and fraud. Yet, he is easily crushed by the 
gentle warrior who does not sow discord, but, as befits the 
servant of God, teaches faith with moderation and refutes 
those who are his adversaries. Of this man Scripture says: 
'Let the warrior who is gentle arise,' 61 and the weak man 
says: C I can do all things in him who strengthens me.' 62 

Supported by this faith, even the weak man will prevail, 
his soul will be holy, and this mountain of the Prophets and 
the Apostles will drop down sweetness upon him. 63 The hills, 
too, will pour out milk as did that hill which gave milk to the 
Corinthians to drink. 64 And waters will flow upon him from 
his vessels and the depths of his wells, or from his belly will 
flow living waters, spiritual waters which the Holy Spirit 
gives to the faithful. May He deign to water your soul, too, so 
that in you there may abound the fount of water springing up 
into life everlasting. 65 

Farewell, and love us as a son, because we love you as a 
father. 



60 Ps. 103.2; 4 Esd. 16.60. 

61 Joel 3.9. 

62 Phil. 4.13. 

63 Cf. Joel 3.18. 

64 Cf. 1 Cor. 3.2. 

65 Cf. John 4.14. 



448 SAINT AMBROSE 

80. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings (c. 387) 

When I had finished my last letter and directed it to be 
delivered to you, the words which the Lord spoke by the 
prophet Aggeus came to my mind: 'Is it time for you to 
dwell in carved houses?' What is the meaning of this except 
that we should dwell on high, not in cavernous dwelling 
places or beneath the earth. Those who dwell below the 
earth cannot build the temple of God, and their saying is: 
'The time has not yet come for building the house of the 
Lord.' 1 It is a mark of sensual people to seek underground 
dwellings, longing for summer's coolness because, enervated 
by indulgences and requiring shady depths, they cannot 
otherwise bear the heat. Again, the slothful carry on low 
pursuits beneath the earth. And, finally, dark and shady 
places suit them best wherein they feel that their sins are 
concealed, according to the saying: 'Darkness compasseth 
me about like walls. Whom shall I fear?' 2 Their hope of this 
is vain, since God sees the hidden depths of the abyss and 
discovers all things before they take place. 3 

Neither Elias nor Eliseus lived in underground dwellings. 
The one carried the dead son of the widow into an upper 
chamber where he abode and there restored him to life. 4 The 
other had a chamber prepared for him in the upper part of 
the house by that great woman, the Sunamitess, as Scripture 
bears witness. There she won the privilege of conceiving a 
son, 5 for she was barren, and there also she saw the miracle of 
her child's restoration to life. What should I say of Peter, 
who went up to the roof at the sixth hour and learned there 
the mystery of the baptism of the Gentiles? 6 On the other 
hand, the murderer Absalom set up a pillar to himself in the 

1 Agg. 1.4,2. 

2 Eccli. 23.26. 

3 Cf. Wisd. 8.8. 

4 Cf, 3 Kings 17.22. 

5 Cf. 4 Kings 4.15-37. 

6 Cf. Acts 10.9. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



449 



valley of the king, and was thrown into a ditch when he was 
slain. 7 Thus the saints go up to the Lord, the wicked go down 
to sin; the saints are on the mountains, the guilty in the 
valleys. Tor he is the God of the mountains and not the God 
of the valleys.' 8 

Those who dwelt in the houses of the plain where God 
does not dwell could not have the house of God within them, 
for this is the house which God sought from them so that they 
might build up themselves and rear within themselves the 
temple of God from living stones of faith. He did not want 
buildings made with earthen walls or wooden roofs, for the 
hand of an enemy would have been able to overthrow them. 
He wanted that temple which is built in the hearts of men, to 
whom it may be said: 'You are the temple of God,' 9 in 
which the Lord Jesus might dwell and from there set out to 
redeem all mankind. There also could be prepared a sacred 
chamber in the womb of the Virgin where the King of 
heaven might live and a human body become the temple of 
God, which though it was destroyed, might yet be restored to 
life on the third day. 

Sensual persons who dwell in vaulted houses 10 and take 
delight in coffered silver ceilings do not build a house like 
this. As they despise plain silver, so do they despise a simple 
dwelling place. 11 They add to the site of their homes; adding 
more and more, they join one house with another, one 
estate with another; they dig up the ground so that the very 
earth itself gives way for their dwelling, and, like children of 
the earth, they are laid up within her womb and hidden 
within her. flesh. Plainly it was of them that Jeremias said: 
'Woe to them who build their house by injustice!' 12 The man 
who builds with justice builds not on earth but in heaven. 

7 Cf. 2 Kings 18.17. 

8 3 Kings 20.28, 

9 1 Cor. 3.16. 

10 Cf. Agg. 1.4. 

11 Cf. Isa. 5.8. 

12 Jer. 22.13. 



450 SAINT AMBROSE 

'You have built, 5 says the Prophet, 'a house, to measure its 
upper storey, airy and marked with windows, roofed with 
cedar and painted with vermilion.' 13 That man measures the 
upper storey who has contemplated the judgment of God and 
judges the judgment of the humble and of the poor. But the 
man who goes in search of gain and of the blood of the 
innocent does not build his roofs with judgment, nor keep a 
due measure, because he has not Christ. He does not try to 
inhale the breath of divine grace, nor does he look for the 
brightness of the full light. He does not have his chambers 
painted with vermilion and it cannot be said to him: Thy 
lips are like scarlet lace.' 14 

'One of this sort/ it is said, 'will not be buried/ 15 for he 
has entrenched himself in the earth and buried himself in a 
tomb when alive, as it were, depriving himself of repose in a 
tomb when he is dead. Having laid himself away in the pit 
of bodily pleasure, he has not found that tomb from which 
one can rise. A man of this sort does not build a temple to 
God, because he does not know the time of his correction. 
How can such men build a temple, since like wild beasts and 
animals they have taken themselves into the caves and lairs 
of beasts 16 and wild animals, burying themselves like serpents 
in pits, digging into the earth in the manner of a cunning fox? 

The man who dies before his time does not build his tomb, 
for, although he lives, he is dead. 17 He does not hear the words 
of Aggeus, interpreted the banqueteer, for he does not enter 
the tabernacle of God 'with the voice of joy and praise : the 
noise of one feasting.' 18 How does he hear His voice if he 
does not see His works? If he saw them he would hear the 
Word which was put within his grasp, he would rejoice in 

13 Jer. 22.14. 

14 Cant. 4.3. 

15 Jer. 22-19. 

16 Cf. Virgil, Ed. 10.52. 

17 Cf. 1 Tim. 5.6. 

18 Ps. 41.5, 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 451 

His acts, whereby 'he knocked and it was opened to him/ 19 
and he would have gone down Into his soul that he might 
feed therein upon the foo$ of sincerity and truth. 

Because he has failed to hear, the word of Aggeus again 
comes, saying: 'Rise from houses embossed and carved with 
wickedness, and go up to the mount of heavenly Scriptures 
and hew the tree of wisdom, the tree of life, the tree of 
knowledge. Make straight your ways, order your actions so 
that they may have the due order which is necessary and 
useful for building the house of God.' 20 

Unless you do this, heaven will not give her rain, 21 that is 
to say, the heavenly message which comes down on the hay 
like dew will not cool the fevered motions of the passions of 
your body, nor extinguish the fiery darts of your various 
desires, and the earth, the soul, will not bear its fruit, for it 
dries up unless it is well-watered with the Word of God and 
sprinkled with heavenly dew, the fullness of spiritual grace. 

And because he knew how slothful they are who dwell 
beneath the earth in the dark abodes of pleasure, he said: C I 
will stir up for them the spirit of Zorobabel of the tribe of 
Juda, and Josue the son of Josadec, the high priest, 522 so 
that they will be encouraged to build the house of God, for, 
'Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who 
build it.' 23 Zorobabel means that 'overflowing fountain' on 
the hilltop; it is like the fountain of life and the Word of 
God, 'through which are all things, and from which are all 
things, and all things in it.' 24 This 'overflowing fountain' says: 
'If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink,' 25 drink, 
that is, from the stream of an unfailing flood. We read, too, 

19 Matt. 7.7. 

20 Agg. 1.8. 

21 Cf. Agg. 1.10. 

22 Agg. 1.14. 

23 Ps. 126.1. 

24 Col. 1.16,17. 

25 John 7.37. 



452 SAINT AMBROSE 

of Zabulon, 'a stream by night/ that is to say, 'prophetic.' 26 
It is made clear now by the mingling of the waters in which 
was swallowed up the vanity typified by Jezabel, who was 
opposed to the truth and hostile to the utterances of the 
Prophets. She herself was so ton! by the teeth of dogs that 
no trace of her remained, but her whole frame along with 
every mark of her posterity was blotted out. 27 Zorobabel 
himself, of the tribe of Juda, and Josue the high priest, both 
designated by a tribe and name, seem to represent two 
persons, although mention is made of only one. He who is 
almighty is born from the Almighty, as Redeemer is born of 
the Virgin, being the same in the diversity of His two divisible 
natures, and He, like the Giant of Salvation, 28 has fulfilled 
the verity of the one Son of God. 

When He was on the point of calling from the dead the 
saintly Zorobabel, He said: c Once more I will move heaven 
and earth, and seas and desert.' 29 He had moved them before 
when He delivered His people from Egypt, 30 when there was 
a pillar of fire in the sky, 31 a path through the waves, a wall 
on the sea, a road in the water, and in the desert a harvest of 
heavenly food provided each day, and a rock melted into 
streams of water. He moved these, too, during the Passion of 
the Lord Jesus, 32 when the sky was covered with darkness, 
the sun was veiled in shadows, rocks were rent, graves opened, 
the dead rose again, and the dragon vanquished on its own 
waters saw the fishers of men not only sailing, but even 
walking without peril, on the sea. 

The dry land was moved, too, when the barren Gentile 
nations began to ripen with the harvest of devotion and 
faith, There was a movement of the desert and the Gentiles, 

26 profluvium nocturnum. 

27 Cf. 4 Kings 9.33-37. 

28 Cf. Ps. 19.5. 

29 Agg. 2.22. 

30 Cf. Exod. 14.22-30. 

31 Cf. Exod. 13.2L 

32 Cf. Luke 23.44. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 453 

and so great and so powerful was the preaching of the 
Apostles whom He had sent to call the Gentiles that 'their 
sound went forth unto all the earth and their strains unto the 
farthest bounds of the world.' 33 So great was the movement of 
the desert, I say, that more were the children of the desolate 
than of her who had a husband; 34 it made the desert flower 
like a lily; 35 and the elect of the Gentiles entered into the 
places left by the people where the remnants were saved 
through election to grace. 36 

I will fill this house,' he says, 'with my silver and gold,' 37 
with the word of God which is like silver tried by fire, 38 and 
by the brilliance of the true light, shining like spiritual gold, 
in the secret hearts of the saints. These riches He confers on 
His Church, the riches by which the treasures of her heart 
are rilled and the glory of her house is become greater than 
the glory which in times past the chosen people enjoyed. 39 

Peace and tranquility of soul are more than all the glory 
of the house, for peace surpasses all understanding. 40 This is 
that peace beyond all peace which will be given after the 
third moving of heaven, sea, earth, and dry land, when He 
will destroy all the Powers and Principalities. 'Heaven and 
earth will pass away,' 41 and the whole figure of this world. 
Every man will rise up against his brother with the sword, 
that is, with the word which penetrates the marrow of his 
soul, 42 to destroy what is opposed, namely, the chariot of 
Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem, as Zacharias says. 43 
And such will be the peace over all the passions of the body 

33 Ps. 18.5. 

34 Cf. Isa. 54.1. 

35 Cf. Isa, 35.1. 

36 Cf. Rom. 11.5. 

37 Cf. Agg. 2.8,9. 

38 Cf. Ps. 11.7. 

39 Cf. Agg. 2.10. 

40 Cf. Phil. 4.7. 

41 Matt. 24.35. 

42 Cf. Heb. 4.12. 

43 Cf. Zach. 9.10. 



454 SAINT AMBROSE 

which are not in opposition, and over the minds of un- 
believers, who are not a hindrance, that Christ will be formed 
in all, and will make an offering of the hearts of all men in 
submission to His Father. 44 

So it is mystically said to Him alone: 'I will take thee, 
O Zorobabcl, and I will make thee as a signet ring, for I 
have chosen thee/ 45 For, when our soul becomes so peaceful 
that it is said to her: 'Return, return, O Sulamitess,' 46 which 
means 'peaceful,' or to your own name 'Irenic/ then she will 
receive Christ like a signet ring upon her, for He is the 
image of God. Then she will be according to that image, 
because heavenly is the heavenly man. 47 And we need to 
bear the image of the heavenly one, that is, peace. 

And that we may know that this is true you have in the 
Canticles to the soul, now fully perfect, what I wish the 
Lord Jesus may say to you: Tut me as a seal upon thy 
arm. 548 May peace glow in your heart, Christ in your works, 
and may there be formed in you wisdom and justice and 
redemption. 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you. 



81. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings (c. 387) 

In the writings of some teachers we find the doctrine of 
Pythagoras in which he forbade his disciples to enter upon 
the common path trodden by ordinary people. It is well 
known whence he drew this principle. According to the 
opinion of most persons, he was a Jew by birth and therefore 
drew the teachings of his school from the learning of this 

44 Cf. 1 Cor. 15.28. 

45 Agg. 2.24. 

46 Cant. 6J2. 

47 Cf. 1 Cor. 15.48. 

48 Cant. 8.6, 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 455 

people. 1 Further, he is so highly esteemed among philosophers 
that they say he has scarcely met his equal. He had read in 
Exodus that Moses was bidden by God's command : Tut off 
the shoes from thy feet/ 2 The same bidding was given to 
Josue the son of Nun namely, that they who desired to 
walk the way of the Lord should shake off the dust of the 
road trampled by men. 3 He had also read the command 
given to Moses to ascend the mountain with the priests while 
the people stayed behind. 4 God first separated the priests from 
the people and then commanded Moses to enter the cloud. 

You see, then, the separation. See how among priests one 
looks for nothing of a vulgar nature, nothing ordinary, noth- 
ing in common with the interests and practice and character 
of the undisciplined multitude. The priestly dignity demands 
a prudent demeanor, different from that of the crowd, a 
serious mode of life, an especial sense of gravity. How can 
the priest expect the people to honor him if he possesses no 
quality different from the people? Why should a man admire 
you if he sees his own qualities in you; if he sees nothing in 
you which he does not discover first in himself; if he finds in 
you, whom he thinks he should respect, the very thing of 
which he is ashamed in himself? 

Let us tread beyond the opinions of the common herd, and 
let us avoid the thoroughfares of ordinary living, and the 
routes of the beaten road, and the footpath of the crowd 
where he travels whose day is swifter than the courier, of 
whom it is said: 'He fled away and did not see.' 5 Let us find 
for ourselves the road where the conversations of the proud 

1 Ambrose frequently maintained that pagan authors were not to be 
credited with originality or true wisdom. He finds many occasions to 
connect their sayings with those of Scripture; for example, the famous 
words of Pythian Apollo, 'Know thyself are found in Cant. 1.7, 
whence, says Ambrose, the heathens took such sayings and put them 
into their works. Cf. De off. 1.31; Expos. Ps. 118 2.13. 

2 Exod. 3.5. 

3 Cf. Josue 5.16. 

4 Cf. Exod. 24.13,14. 

5 Job 9.25. 



456 SAINT AMBROSE 

cannot approach, where the works of the wicked are not 
encountered, the road which no polluted person spoils, defil- 
ing it with the stain of his own sloth, smeared with the 
smoke of wickedness, his soul darkened and falling into ruin, 
while he has no taste for virtue, since he thinks he should look 
at it askance and not receive it with direct regard and wide 
open arms. And (as many do, who seem to themselves witty 
and polite, transforming the beauty of wisdom into the ugli- 
ness of guile) such a person does not look upon true grace, 
but, lying in darkness, even in the light of day he does not 
put his trust in those who live, for he is among the people of 
Thema and Saba who fall and turn from truth, as Job says: 
'See the paths of Thema and Saba, they will fall into con- 
fusion if they have their hope in cities and riches. You have 
risen up against me without mercy, but seeing my wounds 
you are afraid.' 6 

Let us abandon the devious paths of those who wander, 
the dust of those that fail, who have often fallen in the desert 
while they searched. Let us turn and follow the road of 
wisdom, the way which the children of those who boast and 
glorify themselves have not trodden, the way which is un- 
acquainted with destruction and knows not death. God has 
marked this: The depth saith: It is not in me. And the sea 
saith: It is not with me.' 7 But if you seek the path of wisdom 
and discipline, love of God and submission to Him is 
wisdom; to keep from sin is discipline. 

What is the advantage for us of this way of the world 
where there is trial, for the life of man is a trial. It is more 
empty than vain tales to live in houses of clay, to spend our 
days and nights in quest of wealth, to think always of wealth, 
and, like hired servants, to want our wages each day, and, as 
they say crickets do, to live on the winds of pleasure. 
Living from day to day, they give vent to their complaints 

~r 



7 Job 28.14. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 457 

like crickets in the springtime. 8 To what else can we 
compare men of no gravity or discipline except to say that 
they are like crickets born for death each day, com- 
plaining rather than speaking? Under the heat of burning 
desires they lull themselves with songs that do them harm, 
and they soon die, bearing no fruit, possessed of no grace. 
Their paths are dangerous and intertwined like the paths of 
serpents which drag their bodies along in poisonous folds, 9 
coiling themselves into a knot of wickedness, unable to raise 
themselves to heavenly things. 

Let us enter the gates of the Lord, the gates of justice, 
where the just man enters and gives thanks to the Lord. 10 
Few enter here, so the Lord said : 'Narrow the gate and close 
the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it.' 11 
But wide is the gate and broad the way which many take 
leading to death and carrying there its travelers. 

Let our road be more narrow, our virtues more abundant, 
our path more sure, our faith more lofty, our line more 
restricted, our strength of soul overflowing, our ways straight, 
because the course of virtue is unswerving. Thus, Solomon 
says: c Oh, you who leave the right way.' 12 

Let our course take us to regions above, because it is better 
to ascend. Finally, as was read today: 'Woe to them that go 
down to Egypt.' 13 Surely, it is not wrong to go to Egypt, but 
to change to the ways of the Egyptians, to change to the 
violence of their treachery and to the ugliness of their wanton- 
ness this is wrong. He that changes in this way descends, 
and one who descends falls. Let us keep away, then, from 
the Egyptian who is a man, but [let us] not [keep away] 
from God. Even the king of Egypt himself fell under the 

8 Cf. Virgil Georg. 3.328. 

9 Cf. Ibid. 2.154. 

10 Cf. Ps. 117.19. 

11 Matt. 7.14. 

12 Prov. 2.13. 

13 Isa. 31.1. 



458 SAINT AMBROSE 

dominion of his own vices and in comparison with him Moses 
was accounted a god, ruling over kingdoms and subjecting 
powers to himself. So we read that it was said to Moses: 1 
shall make thee a God to Pharao/ 14 

Farewell, and love us, as you do, with the affection of 
a son. 



82. Ambrose to Irenaeus, greetings (c. 387) 

You have intimated that you find difficulty with the text : 
'Let us sacrifice the abominations of the Egyptians to God.' 1 
The solution of your difficulty is to be found in the words of 
Genesis that the Egyptians abominated the shepherd of the 
flock, 2 not so much because of the shepherd as because of the 
flock. The Egyptians, you know, were tillers of the land, but 
Abraham and Jacob and, later, Moses and David, were 
shepherds, who put a sort of royal stamp upon this occupa- 
tion. 

The Egyptians, consequently, abominated the offerings of 
sacrifice, that is, the perfect pursuit of the virtues and the 
full pursuit of obedience. The very thing which they viciously 
hated, good persons regard as a sincere and pious act. A per- 
son given to sensual pleasure hates the work of virtue ; the glut- 
ton shuns it. The body of the Egyptian, given to pleasure, has 
an aversion for the virtues of the soul, abominates restrictions, 
and shuns the exercise of virtue and all works of this kind. 

The very things which the Egyptian shuns he who is an 
Egyptian rather than a mere man embrace these, knowing 
what befits a man. Keep away from the things which they 

14 Exod. 7.1. 

1 Exod. 8.26. 

2 Cf. Gen. 46.34. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 459 

follow and choose, because wisdom and foolishness cannot 
blend. And just as wisdom eludes those who are in the ranks 
of the foolish and intemperate, so does chastity elude them. 
The foolish and the unchaste man is alienated from the 
goods and inheritance which belong to the wise and the 
chaste. 

The two holy daughters of that union, Lia and Rachel, the 
one meaning labored/ the other 'strong in desire, 5 tried to 
avoid not the tie of blood but the difference of their manners. 
When they learned from their conversation with the much- 
tried Jacob that he wished them to part from their country 
in order to escape the enmity and anger of Laban and his 
sons, they answered : 'Have we anything left among the goods 
and inheritance of our father's house? Hath he not counted 
us as strangers and sold us, and eaten up the price of us?' 3 
Notice, first of all, how the foolish and envious man estranges 
himself and wants to part from the hard-working woman 
who practices a close discipline over herself. Realizing that 
they will be a burden to him, he considers it an advantage to 
part from them and he looks upon this leave-taking as his 
reward and the enjoyment of his desire. 

Let us hear how foolishness has not the possessions of 
virtue, for they say: 'All the riches and glory which the 
Lord gave our fathers will belong to us and our sons.' 4 
Rightly do they say that they were taken, God being their 
judge, since He is the Author of all good, and the foolish lose 
His favor. Because wicked and weak men cannot grasp the 
beauty of the divine inheritance, the man who is strong and 
brave, having a courageous spirit within himself, becomes the 
heir. Yet, who is strong except God alone who rules and 
guides all things? 

The possession of God is owed to such as these, as Isaias 
says: 'This is the inheritance of those who believe in the 

3 Gen. 31.14,15. 

4 Gen. 31.16. 



460 SAINT AMBROSE 

Lord.' 5 Very aptly does he say: 'This is the inheritance,' for 
that alone is the inheritance; there is no other. The inheritance 
is not a treasure which men stumble upon blindly, and passing 
things have not the quality of an inheritance. The only 
inheritance is that in which God is the portion, as the Lord's 
holy one says: 'God is my inheritance,' and again: 1 have 
become an heir of thy precepts.' 6 You see what are the 
possessions of the just man : God's commandments, His words, 
His precepts. In these he is rich; on these he feeds; with 
these he is delighted as if by all riches. 

Lia and Rachel, possessing these, did not need their 
father's riches, his base coins, foolish outward show, and lack 
of spiritual vigor. Being rich and free themselves, they thought 
their father not rich, but in dire need. Those who partake of 
good and liberal training think that the foolish are not rich, 
but needy and poor in fact, in dire distress all the while 
the rich man abounds in the wealth of kings and proudly 
boasts of his power over gold. 

We must flee the company of such men even though they 
are united to us by ties of blood. Association with the foolish 
is harmful, for it corrupts and darkens the prudent mind. 
Just as a holy man will associate with a holy man, so will the 
wicked associate with the wicked. 7 It is a frequent occurrence 
for one who hears his own ideas attacked with rage much 
as he wishes to cling to his way of continence to be yet 
tinged with the dye of foolishness, for rightly do discipline 
and insolence prove contrary and repugnant to one another. 

When the much-tried [Jacob] asked their opinion, they 
[the daughters of Laban] gave responses prompted by virtue 
tried by long practice, saying : 'Have we anything left among 
the goods and inheritance of our father's house?' 8 that is to 
say, 'Are you asking whether we wish to part from him? Do 

5 Isa. 54.17. 

6 Ps. 118.57,111. 

7 Cf. Ps. 17.26,27. 

8 Gen. 31.14. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 46 1 

you really not understand that we can have no desire for his 
company, and we are not held by the desire for riches or 
delight in luxury which is sweet to worldlings. These we 
consider pitiable and alien to us; these we think are full of 
want and need.' 

They add still another reason for their departure, the fact 
that Laban had lost the true glory and store of good treasure 
into which they were born. We were given strength of mind, 
a good coinage, a spiritual money, stamped with the image 
and likeness of God. He lost these because he chose the 
splendid things of this world rather than those which are 
true and useful for his life. The beauty of these escapes the 
man who is ignorant of the goods of heaven, since he has 
tricked himself and deceived himself in his judgment of what 
is beautiful. Now hear his [Laban's] words and be the judge. 

He pursued blessed Jacob and his daughters, thinking he 
would find his same sin in them and thereby have the right 
to detain them. He chided the just man, and all along reason 
within him chided him so that he could find no answer nor 
give a reason why he should detain him. 'If you had told me,' 
he said, 'I would have let you go.' 9 In this he disclosed why it 
was that the just man was fleeing, so that he would not 
follow him or detain him, or so that he would not leave 
surrounded by such a retinue. First, he was unwilling to put 
himself at the service of so many masters and to have to be 
set free by Laban, like a servant. Then, because he was a 
man intent on virtue and endeavoring to find the true road 
to virtue, he wanted no one to lead him because the word 
of God sufficed. 'These,' he said, 'have instructed me to 
depart and accompany me on my way.' 

'But how,' he said, 'would you have dismissed me? With 
that joy of yours which is full of sadness? With timbrels and 
instruments of poorly modulated harmony and the soft notes 

9 Gen. 31.27. 



462 SAINT AMBROSE 

of flutes sounding discordant strains? With mute voices and 
cymbals jarring the senses? Did you think that these could 
please me or call me back? It is these which I have fled, 
fearless before your words of scorn. I fled that these might 
not follow me, so that in leaving I would take along none of 
your gifts. 5 

With guides like these one does not reach the Church of 
Christ whither Jacob was directing his way, in order to lead 
there the wealth of the nations, to bring in the riches of the 
heathens, to transplant his posterity, fleeing the shadows of 
vain things, preferring to senseless images of virtue the breath- 
ing beauty of virtue, preferring serious matters to those that 
bring applause. You see how the heathens adorn their 
banquets and announce their feasts. These practices are 
distasteful to devout minds. By these many are deceived, 
being captivated by pleasant banquets, choruses of dancers, 
and at the same time they fly from fasts, think they are hard, 
and believe that they are dangerous and bad for the body, 

c Did you think that I wanted your gold? You do not possess 
the gold tried by the fire with which the just are tried. 10 Did 
I want your silver? You do not possess the silver, for you 
have not the brightness of heavenly conversation. Perhaps I 
hoped that you would give me some of your slaves to serve 
me? I am looking for free men; I am fleeing the slaves of 
sin. Perhaps I needed comrades for the journey and guides 
for the road? Would that they could follow me! I would 
show them the paths of the Lord. You who do not know the 
Lord, how can you know His paths? Not everyone who enters, 
but those who have been chosen by the Lord, walk His paths, 
although no one is excluded. 

'Let him who is prepared follow me; let him take the road 
which leads to Mesopotamia. Let him who seeks that country 
pass through the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, the 
waters of fortitude and justice, the tears of penance and the 



10 Cf. Ps, 11.7. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



463 



baptism of grace. Here is the path of the army of God, 
since all who belong to the Church are soldiers of God. Here 
is the flock marked with all kinds of virtues, the flock which 
Jacob chose for himself. Every soul that is unmarked is unwise 
and untaught, knowing no discipline. Those that are marked 
are rich in good works and wealthy in grace. 

'Let him who comes first be reconciled with his angry 
brother. Let him who comes here dwell in Sichem, the 
precious and real storehouse of virtues where wounded 
chastity receives full revenge. Let him who comes here wrestle 
with God so that he may strive to imitate Him, coming close 
to Christ's humility and Passion. Let him take up his cross 
and follow Christ. 11 Lastly, a good combatant is not envious 
or puffed up. He even blesses his combatant by giving him 
a reward.' 

Let us follow blessed Jacob and his paths so that we may 
reach these sufferings, these contests, his shoulder. 12 Let us 
reach patience, the mother of the faithful, and Isaac, the 
father, that is, one capable of joy who abounds in happiness. 13 
Where there is patience there is happiness, because after 
tribulation comes patience, and patience works experience in 
which there is hope, in which we are not confounded. 14 
Christ will not be ashamed of one who is not ashamed of the 
cross of Christ. 

Farewell, my son, and do not be ashamed to ask questions 
of your father, as you are not ashamed to glory in the 
sufferings of Christ. 

11 Cf, Matt. 16.24. 

12 Sichem means 'shoulder' in Hebrew. 

13 Isaac means laughter' in Hebrew. 

14 Cf. Rom. 5.5. 



464 SAINT AMBROSE 

83. Ambrose to Irenaeus 1 

You seem greatly disturbed over the Apostle's lesson, 
hearing it read today: Tor the Law works wrath; for where 
there is no law, neither is there transgression.' 2 For this 
reason you determined to ask why the Law was promulgated 
if it profited nothing, in fact, was injurious by working wrath 
and causing transgression. 

Indeed, according to your inquiry, it is certain that the 
Law given to Moses was not necessary. For, if men had been 
able to keep the natural law which God the Creator planted 
in the breast of each one, there would have been no need of 
that Law, which, written on stone tablets, rather enmeshed 
and entangled the weakness of human nature than freed and 
liberated it. Moreover, that there is a natural law written in 
our hearts the Apostle also teaches when he writes that for 
the most part The Gentiles do by nature what the Law 
prescribes, and since they do not read the Law, they yet have 
the work of the Law written in their hearts.' 3 

This law is not written, but inborn; it is not acquired by 
reading, but springs up in each one as from the flowing font 
of nature, and men's minds drink from it. This law we should 
have kept even through fear of future judgment, which our 
conscience witnesses, revealing itself by silent thoughts before 
God, whereby our sin is reproved or our innocence justified. 
Therefore, that which has always been apparent to the Lord 
will be clearly revealed on the day of judgment, when the 
secrets of the heart, which were thought to be hidden, will be 
called to an account. The discovery of these things, these 
secrets, I mean, would do no harm if the natural laws were 
implanted in the human breast, for it is in itself holy, 



1 Undated. 

2 Rom. 4.15. 

3 Rom. 2.14,15. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 465 

guileless, without craftiness, the companion of justice free 
from wickedness. 

Accordingly, let us pose the question to childhood, let us 
see if any crime can be found therein, if greed, ambition, 
guile, rage, and insolence are there. It claims nothing for its 
own, assumes no honors for itself, knows not how to prefer 
itself to another, knows no guile, does not wish to and cannot 
avenge itself. Its pure and simple mind cannot comprehend 
the meaning of insolence. 

This law Adam broke, 4 seeking to take for himself what 
he had not received, so that he might be like his own 
Creator and Maker, so that he might claim divine honor. 
Through disobedience he incurred guilt, and through arro- 
gance he fell into sin. Had he not broken the command and 
had he been obedient to the heavenly precepts, he would have 
preserved for his heirs the prerogative of nature and of 
innocence which was his from birth. But because the authority 
of the natural law was corrupted and blotted out by dis- 
obedience, the written Law was determined necessary, that 
man who had lost all might regain at least a part, and he 
who had lost what was his at birth might know and guard at 
least a part. Since the cause of his fall was pride, and pride 
sprang from the privilege of his innocence, it was necessary 
for some law to be passed which would subdue and subject 
him to God. Now, without the Law he was ignorant of sin, 
and his fault was less when he was ignorant of his fault. 5 
Thus, also, says the Lord : 'If I had not come and spoken to 
them, they would have no sin. But now they have no excuse 
for their sin. 56 

The Law was passed, first, to remove all excuse for sin, 
lest any man might say: 'I knew no sin, for I received no 
rule as to what to avoid.' Next, that it might make all men 

4 Cf. Gen. 3.6. 

5 Cf. Rom. 7.8. 

6 John 15.22. 



466 SAINT AMBROSE 

subject to God through their recognition of sin. 7 It made 
all subject, for it was given not only to the Jews, but it 
reached also the Gentiles, and converts from the Gentiles 
became their associates. Nor can that man possibly seem 
exempt who, being called, was found wanting, for the Law 
bound those whom she called. Thus, the sin of all men caused 
subjection, subjection humility, humility obedience. And as 
pride drew after her sin, so sin, on the contrary, begot 
obedience. Thus, the written Law, which seemed superfluous, 
was needed to redeem sin from sin. 

Lest anyone again be alarmed and say that the Law 
caused an increase of sin, and that the Law was not only 
unprofitable but even injurious, he has at his disposal words 
which can relieve his concern, that 'although by the Law sin 
abounded, grace has also abounded.' 8 Now, let us understand 
the meaning of this. 

Sin abounded by the Law because through the Law came 
knowledge of sin 9 and it became harmful for me to know 
what through my weakness I could not avoid. It is good to 
know beforehand what one is to avoid, but, if I cannot avoid 
something, it is harmful to have known about it. Thus was 
the Law changed to its opposite, yet it became useful to me 
by the very increase of sin, for I was humbled. And David 
therefore says: 'It is good for me that I have been humbled.' 10 
By humbling myself I have broken the bonds of that ancient 
transgression by which Adam and Eve had bound the whole 
line of their succession. Hence, too, the Lord came as an 
obedient man to loose the knot of man's disobedience and 
deception. And as through disobedience sin entered, so 
through obedience sin was remitted. Therefore, the Apostle 
says: Tor just as by the disobedience of one man the many 

7 Cf. Rom. 3.9. 

8 Rom. 5.20. 

9 Cf. Rom. 7.7. 
10 Ps. 118.71. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 467 

were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one 
the many will be constituted just.' 11 

Here is one reason that the Law was unnecessary and 
became necessary, unnecessary in that it would not have been 
needed if we had been able to keep the natural law; but, as 
we did not keep it, the Law of Moses became needful to 
teach me obedience and loosen that bond of Adam's deception 
which had ensnared his whole posterity. Yes, guilt grew by 
the Law, but pride, the source of guilt, was loosed, and this 
was an advantage to me. Pride discovered the guilt and the 
guilt brought grace. 

Consider another reason. The Law of Moses was not need- 
ful; hence, it entered secretly. Its entrance seems not of an 
ordinary kind, but like something clandestine because it 
entered secretly into the place of the natural law. Thus, if 
she had but kept her place, this written Law would never 
have entered in, but, since deception had banished that law 
and nearly blotted it out of the human breast, pride reigned 
and disobedience was rampant. Therefore, that other took its 
place so that by its written expression it might challenge us 
and shut our mouth, in order to make the whole world 
subject to God. 12 The world, however, became subject to Him 
through the Law, because all are brought to trial by the 
prescript of the Law, and no one is justified without the works 
of the Law; in other words, because the knowledge of sin 
comes from the Law, but guilt is not remitted, the Law, 
therefore, which has made all men sinners, seems to have 
caused harm. 

But, when the Lord Jesus came He forgave all men the 
sin they could not escape, and canceled the decree against us 
by shedding His Blood. 13 This is what He says: 'By the Law 
sin abounded, but grace abounded by Jesus/ 14 since after 

11 Rom. 5.19. 

12 Cf. Rom. 3.19. 

13 Cf. Col. 2.14. 

14 Cf. Rom. 5.20. 



468 SAINT AMBROSE 

the whole world became subject He took away the sins of 
the whole world, as John bears witness, saying: 'Behold the 
lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' 15 Let no 
one glory, then, in his works, since no one is justified by his 
deeds, but one who is just has received a gift, being justified 
by baptism. It is faith, therefore, which sets us free by the 
Blood of Christ, for he is blessed whose sin is forgiven and to 
whom pardon is granted. 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you. 



84. To Irenaeus 1 

Although in a previous letter I have already disposed of 
the little question you proposed, I will not refuse your request, 
my son, to set forth and develop my meaning at greater length. 

Numerous times the question has been raised, and well 
known, too, is the acquittal of the woman who in the Gospel 
according to John was brought to Christ, accused of adultery. 
The Jews had devised this stratagem so that, in case she was 
set free contrary to the Law, the sentence of the Lord Jesus 
might be charged with being contrary to the Law, but, if she 
were condemned according to the Law, the grace of Christ 
might seem void. 

The question became more pressing after bishops began 
accusing criminals before public tribunals, some urging the 
sword and the death penalty, while other approved accusa- 
tions of this sort and the bloody triumphs of bishops. What 
do these say except what the Jews said, namely, that the 

15 John 1.29. 

1 Written between 385 and 387. It is ascribed to Studius in the mss. 
since its contents closely follow those of the letter to Studius referred 
to in the opening sentence. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 469 

guilty should be punished by the laws of the state and those 
should be accused by bishops in state courts whom they say 
should have been punished by law? The case is the same, 
although the number is less, that is, the case of judgment is 
the same, but the odium of the penalty is not the same. Christ 
would not allow one woman to be punished according to the 
Law; these declare that too small a number has been punished. 

But, where did Christ pass this judgment? He generally 
thought fit to shape His discourse in accordance with the 
characteristics of the place where He was teaching His 
disciples. For example, while walking in the porch of Solomon, 
that is, of the wise man, He said: I and the Father are one. 9 
And when He was in the Temple of God He said: 'My 
teaching is not my own, but his who sent me.' While He 
stood in the Temple, too, He gave the sentence of which we 
are speaking, for in the following verses you have: 'Jesus 
spoke these words in the treasury while teaching in the 
Temple. And no one seized Him. 52 What is the treasury? 
The contribution of the faithful, the bank of the poor, the 
refuge of the needy, and Christ sat near this and, according 
to Luke, gave the opinion that the two mites of the widow 
were preferable to the gifts of the rich, 3 preferring on God's 
word love joined with zeal and generosity rather than the 
lavish gifts of munificence. 

Let us see what comparison He made when He passed 
such judgment there near the treasury, for with good reason 
He preferred the widow who contributed the two mites. That 
precious poverty of hers was rich in the mystery of faith. So 
are the two coins which the Samaritan of the Gospels left at 
the inn to care for the wounds of the man who had fallen 
among robbers. 4 The widow mystically representing the 
Church thought it right to put into the sacred treasury the 

2 John 10.30; 7.16; 8.20. 

3 Cf. Luke 21.2-4. 

4 Cf. Luke 10.35. 



470 SAINT AMBROSE 

gift with which the wounds of the poor are healed and the 
hunger of wayfarers is satisfied. 

Therefore, what Christ now bestows you must spend spiritu- 
ally. He gave to the people the silver of heavenly eloquence 
tried by fire and to satisfy the desires of the people He marked 
the coin with the royal image. 5 No one contributed more 
than He who gave all. He filled the hungry, supplied the 
needy, gave light to the blind; He ransomed the captives, 
He made the paralytic rise, He gave life to the dead; and, 
what is more, He brought pardon to sinners and forgave 
their sins. These are the two coins which the Church has 
contributed after having received them from Christ. What are 
the two coins but the price of the New and Old Testament? 
The price of Scripture is our faith, for we value what we 
read in proportion to our will and intellect. Remission of 
sins, then, is the price of each Testament and is announced 
in type by the lamb and fulfilled in reality by Christ. 

Understand, then, that there was no purification of seven 
days without the purification of three days. The purification 
of seven days is according to the Law which foretold under 
the appearance of the present sabbath a spiritual sabbath. 
The purification of three days is according to grace which is 
sealed by the witness of the Gospel, 6 because the Lord arose 
on the third day. Where punishment for sins is prescribed 
there ought to be penance; where remission is given to sinners 
there also is grace. Penance precedes; grace follows. There 
is neither penance without grace nor grace without penance, 
for penance should first condemn the sin so that grace can do 
away with it. John fulfilled the type of the Law and baptized 
to penance; Christ, to grace. 7 

The seventh day symbolizes the mystery of the Law, the 
eighth that of the resurrection, as you have in Ecclesiastes : 

5 Cf. Ps. 11.7. 

6 Luke 24.7. 

7 Cf. Matt. 3.11. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 47 1 

'Give a portion to those seven and to the eight.' 8 And in the 
prophet Osee you read that it was said to him: 'Get an 
adulteress for fifteen denarii/ 9 so that by the twofold price of 
the Old and New Testament, that is, by the full price of 
faith, he procures the woman who is attended by a wandering 
and adulterous crowd of heathen strangers. 

'And I bought her for an omer of barley, and half an omer 
of barley and a measure of wine. 5 By barley is meant that he 
has called the imperfect to faith, to make them perfect; by 
the omer is understood a full measure, by the half-omer a 
half -measure. The full measure is in the Gospel; the half- 
measure is in the Law whose fulfillment is the New Testament. 
Indeed, the Lord Himself said: 'I have not come to destroy 
the Law, but to fulfill it.' 10 

We read the significant words in the Psalms of David 
regarding the fifteen degrees and that the sun had arisen 
fifteen steps when Ezekias, the just king, received additional 
years to his life. 11 The Sun of Justice is represented about to 
come to illumine with the light of His presence the fifteen 
steps of the Old and New Testament by which our faith 
mounts up to eternal life. I believe that today's reading in the 
Apostle 12 is a mystery, the fact that he [Paul] stayed fifteen 
days with Peter. It seems to me that, while the holy Apostles 
talked with one another about the interpretation of holy 
Scripture, the brilliance of the full light shone upon them and 
the shades of ignorance were dispersed. But let us go on to 
discuss the forgiveness of the woman charged with adultery. 

A woman guilty of adultery was brought by the Scribes 
and Pharisees to the Lord Jesus and the malicious charge 
was laid on her so that if He forgave her He might seem to 

8 Eccle. 11.2. 

9 Osee 3.1,2. 

10 Matt. 5.17. 

11 Cf. Isa. 38.8. 

12 Cf. Gal. 1.18. 



472 SAINT AMBROSE 

destroy the Law, but if He condemned her He would seem to 
have changed the purpose for which He had come, for He had 
come to forgive the sins of all men. He said earlier: e l judge 
no one.' 13 Presenting her, they said: 'We have found this 
woman openly in adultery. And in the Law 14 Moses com- 
manded every adulterer to be stoned. What then do you say 
about her?' 15 

While they were saying this, Jesus, bending His head, 
wrote with His finger on the ground. And when they waited 
to hear Him, He raised His head and said: 'Let him who is 
without sin be the first to cast a stone at her. 316 Is anything 
so godlike as that sentence that he should punish sin who 
himself is free from sin? For, how could we tolerate a person 
who condemned another for his sin and excused his own 
evil deeds? Does he not prove that he is more guilty by 
condemning in another what he himself commits? 

He spoke these words and wrote on the ground. Why? As 
if He said: 'You see the speck which is in your brother's eye, 
but you do not see the beam which is in your eye.' 17 Lust is 
like a speck, quickly enkindled, speedily consumed. The 
sacrilegous affrontery with which the Jews refused to acknowl- 
edge the Author of their salvation indicates the greatness of 
their crimes. 

He wrote on the ground with the finger with which He 
had written the Law. 18 Sinners are written on the ground, 19 
the just in heaven, as you have it said to the disciples: 
'Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.' 20 But He 
wrote a second time, so that you may know that the Jews were 
condemned by both Testaments. 

13 Cf. John 8.3-11,15. 

14 Lev. 20.10. 

15 John 8.4,5. 

16 John 8.7. 

17 Matt. 7.3. 

18 Cf. Exod. 31.18. 

19 Ct Jer. 17.13. 

20 Luke 10.20. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 473 

When they heard these words they went out, one by one, 
beginning with the eldest, and they sat down thinking about 
themselves. And Jesus remained alone and the woman stand- 
ing in the midst. 21 It is well said that they went out, for they 
did not wish to be with Christ. The letter is outside; the 
mysteries, within. In the divine teachings they wanted, as it 
were, the leaves of the tree and not its fruit, and they lived 
in the shadow of the Law and were unable to see the Sun of 
Justice. 

When they had gone, Jesus remained alone and the woman 
standing in the midst. Jesus who was about to forgive sin 
remains alone, as He Himself says: 'Behold the hour is 
coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each 
one to his own house, and to leave me alone,* 22 because no 
herald or messenger, but the Lord Himself, saved His 
people. 23 He remains alone because no one can share with 
Christ the task of forgiving sins. This is the task of Christ 
alone who took away the sin of the world. 24 The woman 
deserved to be forgiven, since she remained alone with Jesus 
when the Jews withdrew. 

Then Jesus, raising His head, said to the woman: 'Where 
are they who accused thee? Has no one stoned thee?' And she 
answered, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said to her: 'Neither 
will I condemn thee. Go thy way and now see that you sin 
no more/ 25 See, reader, the divine mystery and the mercy of 
Christ. When the woman is accused, Christ bows His head, 
but He raises it when an accuser is no longer there. Thus, 
He wishes no one to be condemned, but all to be forgiven, 

By saying 'Has no one stoned thee?' He quickly destroys all 
the quibbling of the heretics. They say that Christ does not 
know the day of judgment because He said: 'As for sitting 

21 Cf. John 8.9. 

22 John 16.32. 

23 Cf. Isa. 63.8. 

24 Cf. John 1.29. 

25 John 8.10,11. 



474 SAINT AMBROSE 

at my right hand and at my left, that is not mine to give 
you.' 20 But see, He also says here: 'Has no one stoned thee?' 
How is it that He asks about what He saw? He is putting the 
question for our advantage that we may know that she was 
not stoned. Besides, it is a custom of man's nature that we 
often question what we see. And the woman answered: c No 
one, Lord/ In other words, she said: 'Who can stone a woman 
whom You Yourself do not condemn? Who can punish 
another under such conditions? 3 

The Lord answered her: 'Neither will I condemn thee. 5 
Notice how He softened His judgments, so that the Jews 
might not be able to accuse Him of forgiving the woman, but, 
rather, turn the insult against themselves if they had a mind 
to complain. The woman is sent away; she is not forgiven* 
Inasmuch as no accuser was at hand, her innocence was not 
for this reason proven. Why should they complain, since 
they were the first to discontinue the charge and fail to exact 
the penalty? 

He adds these words to the one gone astray: fi Go, and see 
now that you sin no more. 3 He reformed the guilty one; He 
did not forgive the crime. A person receives a heavier penalty 
when he hates his fault and begins to condemn sin in himself. 
When a guilty man is put to death, the person rather than the 
fault is punished, But, when the fault is forsaken, the for- 
giveness of the person is the punishment of the sin. What do 
those words mean: c Go, and now see that you sin no more'? 
It is this: Since Christ has redeemed you, let grace correct 
you, for a penalty would not reform you, but only punish you. 

Farewell, son, and as a son love us, because we love you 
as a father. 

26 Matt. 20.23. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 475 

85. Ambrose to Irenaeus 1 

You have asked me to expound for you the full thought of 
the Epistle to the Ephesians, an epistle which seems somewhat 
obscure unless one draws the distinctions which made the 
Apostle realize he had to persuade us not to despair of the 
kingdom of God. 

In the first place, he points out that for good men the 
greatest motive for the pursuit of virtue is the hope of rewards 
and the inheritance of heavenly promises which are brought 
within reach in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. 

Then he adds that not only has a way to paradise been 
made anew for us through Christ, but also there has been 
won for us the honor of a throne in heaven through our 
partnership with the flesh of Christ's Body. You need no 
longer doubt the possibility of your ascension, knowing that 
your partnership with the flesh of Christ continues in the 
kingdom of heaven, knowing that through His Blood re- 
concilation was made for all things, those on earth and in 
heaven (for He came down in order to fulfill all things), and 
by His Apostles, Prophets, and priests establishing the whole 
world and drawing together the Gentiles. Now, the purpose 
of our hope is the love of Him, that we may grow up to Him 
in all things, because He is the Head of all things, and by 
the building up of love we all rise up to Him into one body, 2 
according to the measure of our work. 

We ought not despair of the members being united to 
their Head, especially since from the beginning we have been 
predestined in Him through Jesus Christ to be the adopted 
sons of God, and He has ratified this predestination, main- 
taining that which was foretold from the beginning, that C A 
man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his 

1 Undated. 

2 Cf. Eph. 4.15,16. 



476 SAINT AMBROSE 

wife; and the two shall become one flesh/ 3 for it is a mystery 
of Christ and of the Church. Therefore, if the union of 
Adam and Eve is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church, 
it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband, 
and flesh of his flesh, we also are members of Christ's Body, 
bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh. 

No other epistle has given utterance to so great a blessing 
upon the people of God as this in which the great witness of 
divine grace signified not only that we were blessed by God, 
but blessed with all blessing in the spirit and in the heavens, 
and predestined to the adoption of sons, endowed also with 
grace in the Son of God; by this [grace] we have been filled 
with the knowledge of the mystery of the eternal will. 
Especially, then, in the fullness of time when all things were 
made peaceful in Christ those of earth, and those of 
heaven we have been established in this possession, so that 
what is of the Law and what is of grace might be fulfilled in 
us. And although according to the Law we seemed chosen, 
even in that season of youth which signifies a holy life, without 
the wantonness of youth or the weakness of age, we have also 
been taught to battle with lively virtues not only against flesh 
and blood, but also against every force of spiritual wickedness 
on high. 4 

As they [the men of the Old Testament] by drawing lots 
entered into possession of lands taken from the enemy, so has 
the lot of grace fallen to us, so that we may be the possession 
of God, who possesses our reins, the seed-bed of chastity and 
temperance. Do you wish to have information regarding this 
lot? Recall that which fell upon Matthias with the result that 
he was included in the number of the twelve Apostles. 5 The 
Prophet David also says: c lf you sleep among * the lots,' 6 
because one who is in the middle, between the lot of the Old 

3 Gen. 2.24; Eph. 5.31. 

4 Cf. Eph. 6.12. 

5 Cf. Acts 1.26. 

6 Ps. 67.14. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 477 

and the New Testament reclining on both, attains the peace 
of the kingdom of heaven. This lot, their father's possession, 
the daughters of Salphaad sought and by God's judgment 
their petition was granted. 7 Yet they sought it in the shade, 
for Salphaad means 'the shade of the mouth 5 ; they sought 
it in shady words and spoke what was not revealed. Hence, 
the request for their inheritance by the daughters of Salphaad 
was couched in obscure words, but by us the request is made 
in the light of the Gospel and by the revelation of grace. 

Let us therefore be the possession of God, let Him be our 
portion, for in Him are the riches of His glory and of His 
inheritance. Who but God alone is rich, for He created all 
things? But He is even richer in mercy, for He redeemed all 
men, and as the Author of nature He changed us, who were 
by nature children of wrath and liable to harm, so that we 
are the children of peace and charity. Who can change 
nature but He who created it? Therefore, He raised the 
dead and made those who were brought to life in Christ sit 
in heaven in the Lord Jesus Himself. 8 

No one among men has earned the privilege of sitting on 
that seat of God of which the Father said only to the Son: 
'Sit thou at my right hand,' 9 but in the .flesh of Christ, 
through fellowship in the same nature, the flesh of the whole 
human race has been honored. For, as He is said to have 
been made subject in our flesh 10 by unity with the flesh and 
obedience of the body in which He was obedient even to 
death, 11 so have we, in His flesh, sat down in heavenly places. 
We have not sat of ourselves, but in Christ who alone sits at 
the right hand of God, the Son of Man, as He Himself said : 
'Hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right 
hand of God.' 12 The grace in Him and His goodness have 

7 Cf. Num. 27.1-6. 

8 Cf. Eph. 2.4-6. 

9 Ps. 109.1. 

10 Cf. Luke 2.51. 

11 Cf. Phil. 2.8. 

12 Matt. 26.64. 



478 SAINT AMBROSE 

flowed upon us in Christ Jesus that, although we were dead 
by works, yet, having been redeemed by faith and saved by 
grace, He might give us the gift of deliverance, by which our 
very nature, as though raised from the dead, experiences the 
grace of a new vesture, and we, who were created in Christ, 
but fell away through the corruption of our guilty lineage, 
may walk doing good. 

With the removal of those enmities which formerly existed 
in the flesh, peace with the universe has been made in 
heaven, 13 that men might be like angels on earth, that Gentiles 
and Jews might be made one, that in one man might dwell 
the old and the new man, with the middle wall of partition 
removed, which once stood between them like a hostile 
barrier. Now, since the nature of our flesh has stirred up 
anger and discord and dissension, and the Law has bound 
us with the chains of guilt, Christ Jesus has by mortification 
subdued the wantonness and intemperance of the flesh, has 
made void the commandments contained in ordinances, de- 
claring that the decrees of the spiritual law are not to be 
interpreted according to the letter, putting an end to the 
slothful rest of the sabbath and the superfluous rite of bodily 
circumcision, and laying open to all an approach to the Father 
in one spirit. How, then, can there be discord where there is 
one calling, one body, one spirit? 

What else did Christ effect by His coming down except to 
deliver us from captivity into liberty, and to make that cap- 
tivity captive which had been fettered by the bonds of un- 
belief, restrained now by the fetters of wisdom, every wise 
man putting his feet into its bonds? So it is written that, 
when He had descended, He ascended to fill all things, 14 
that we might all receive of His fullness. 15 

First, He placed in the Church Apostles, who were filled 

13 Cf. Eph. 2.14. 

14 Cf. Eph. 4.10. 

15 Cf. John 1.16. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



479 



with the Holy Spirit, and some Prophets, some Evangelists, 
but others pastors and teachers, that by their exhortations the 
progress of believers might be accomplished, and the work of 
the faithful ministry increase. 16 Everyone by building up 
virtue is built into the measure of the inward life, and this 
more perfect measure of a holy life, that is, of perfect man- 
hood, 17 partaking of the fullness of Christ, receives the fullness 
of grace. 

Who is perfect save him who has been freed from the 
infancy of a childish mind, from the uncertain and slippery 
ways of youth, and from the unbounded fervor of young 
manhood, and has attained to that sureness of perfect man- 
hood, and grown up to maturity of character so that he is not 
easily swayed by the words of a wily arguer, nor cast on the 
rocks, at it were, by the violent storm of foolish teaching. 
He makes use of the remedies for error. He follows truth in 
words and in works, and he undertakes to build in himself 
the edifice of love, that he may attain to a unity of faith 
and of knowledge. 18 As a member he does not neglect his 
Head, that is, Christ, who is the head of all, through whom 
the whole body of the faithful and the wise is joined together, 
knitted together, and united together through the reasonable 
harmony of the Word that is, through every joint of the 
system, according to the functioning of each part thereby 
increasing the body in order to build up himself in love. This 
he does so that one temple of God may arise in all, and one 
dwelling of the heavenly mansion be in the spirit of all men. 

In this I think we are to understand not only the union in 
faith and in the spirit of holy men, but of all believers, of all 
the heavenly spiritual hosts and powers, that by a certain 
concord of powers and ministers the one body of all the 
spirits of an intelligent nature may cling to Christ their 

16 Cf. Eph. 4.11. 

17 Cf. Eph. 4.13. 

18 Ibid. 



480 SAINT AMBROSE 

Head, being so united to the framework of the building that 
there seems to be no trace even of the point where the 
several members are joined together. This, then, is the mean- 
ing of the Greek; 19 and it will not be difficult for so great an 
architect to unite each one to Himself according to the 
measure of each one's merits and faith, for the edifice pf 
love closes and blocks up every crevice whereby offense may 
enter. We must not doubt that in the building of this temple 
the company of heavenly hosts will join with us, for it is 
unbecoming that human love can build up a temple of God, 
so that there is formed a dwelling of God in us, while this is 
not possible among the powers of heaven. 

It is in order that this kind of building may rise more 
speedily in us that the Apostle urges us to open the eyes of 
our heart, raise them to things above, earnestly seek the 
knowledge of God, investigate the truth, store in our hearts 
the commandments of God, put aside the desire for evil and 
the hidden deeds of shame, be renewed through the grace of 
the sacraments, control anger, be reconciled before sunset, 
beware lest the Devil get the uppermost of you that spirit 
who was able to plunge into the heart of Judas and break 
asunder the gates of his soul so that he was unable to resist, 
or shut out the thief, or eschew falsehood, or rise from the 
dead, or put on soberness. He says, too, that a wife should 
be subject to her husband, as the Church is to Christ; the 
husband is to offer his life for his wife, as Christ delivered 
Himself up for the Church. 20 Lastly, like good warriors we 
are to put on the armor of God, and strive ever, not only 
against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of 
wickedness. 21 Nor should we be weakened by friends or 
vanquished by the enemy. This brief summary I have drawn 
up to the best of my ability. 

Farewell, son, and love us, because we also love you. 

19 Ambrose here quotes the Greek. 

20 Cf. Eph. 5.25. 

21 Cf. Eph. 6.12, 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 481 

86. Ambrose to Paternus 1 (early 393) 

I have read the greetings of my Paternus, one soul with 
me, but the problem arising from your wish to have your 
son marry your daughter's daughter is by no means paternal; 
rather, it is unbecoming you as a grandfather and father. 2 
Take thought of what you are suggesting, for in all that we 
wish to do we should first ask its name and then determine 
whether it is praiseworthy or blameworthy. For example, 
carnal intercourse with women is a pleasure to some persons 
and even physicians say it is healthful. But we must consider 
whether it is done with one's wife or a stranger, a married or 
unmarried woman. Intercourse with one's wedded spouse he 
calls marriage, but one who assails the honor of another's 
wife commits adultery, whose very name generally checks so 
daring an attempt. To slay an enemy is a victory; to slay a 
criminal is justice; to slay an innocent man is murder, and 
the man who takes thought of this stays his hand. For this 
reason I beg you to consider what you are planning. 

You wish to arrange a marriage between our children. I 
ask you, should those be wed who are alike or unlike? If I 
am not mistaken, they are generally called partners. In yoking 
oxen to the plow or horses to the chariot, one chooses co- 
partners of like age and appearance, that dispositions may 
not contrast too much or dissimilarity be a blemish. You 
are planning to have your son and your daughter's child wed, 
that is, to have him marry his sister's daughter, granted that he 
is of a different mother than she who will be his mother-in- 
law. Consider how the very names have a sanction: he is 
called her uncle, she his niece. Does not the very sound of 
the words check your resolve? When he mentions her 

1 Probably Aemilius Florus Paternus, proconsul of Africa in 393. 

2 Marriage with a niece was forbidden by a law of Constantius; cf. Cod. 
Theod. 3.12.1. 



482 SAINT AMBROSE 

grandfather, she may refer this name to her uncle, which he 
refers to her grandfather. 3 How much confusion is there in the 
other terms? You will be called grandfather and father-in- 
law; she will be called by different terms, niece and daughter- 
in-law. Brother and sister will be addressed by other names; 
one will be the mother-in-law of her brother, the other, the 
son-in-law of his sister. Your niece will marry her uncle and 
the affection of these pure children will be supplanted by an 
irregular love. 

You tell me that your saintly bishop is awaiting my 
opinion on this. I do not think or believe this is so. If it were 
true, he would have felt the need of writing, but, by not 
doing so, he intimates that he thinks there is no doubt on 
this point. Where is there room for doubt when divine law 
which forbids marriage between first cousins extends to those 
related within the fourth degree? This is the third degree to 
which, even by civil law, the marriage union appears to be 
forbidden. 

Let us first inquire what are the decrees of the divine law, 
for in your letters you allege that such a marriage is permitted 
by divine law ia that it is not forbidden. But, I say, it is 
actually forbidden. For, if these privileges are forbidden first 
cousins, much more do I think this closer bond of union is 
not allowed. One who attaches censure to slight matters does 
not forgive, but condemns more serious ones. 

Now, if you think it is permitted because it is not specifically 
forbidden, you also will find no expression in the law 
forbidding a father to take his daughter as a wife. Surely it 
is not allowed just because it is not forbidden? By reason 
of the near relationship it is forbidden by the law of nature, 
by the law in the hearts of each of us, by the unsullied rule 
of piety. How many things of this sort will you find, not 

3 Neptis means both granddaughter and niece. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 483 

forbidden by the Law which was promulgated through 
Moses, yet forbidden by the voice of nature! 

There are also many lawful things which it is not expedient 
to do, for 'all things are lawful but they are not expedient' ; 4 
all things are lawful but they do not edify. If the Apostle 
also restrains our doing what does not edify, how can we 
imagine we can do what is not permitted by the word of the 
Law, and does not edify, since it is out of harmony with the 
right order of piety. Yet, the former things which were too 
harsh have been mitigated by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus: 
'The former things have passed away; behold, they are made 
new! 35 

What is so formal as a kiss between a niece and uncle, 
which he owes her as to a daughter, she as to a parent? You 
will bring suspicion upon this kiss of unoffending piety by 
proposing such a marriage, and you will deprive your dear 
children of this most holy token. 

If the divine commands do not touch you, at least you 
should regard the laws of the emperors from whom you have 
received most lavish honors. Emperor Theodosius forbade the 
children of either brothers or sisters to unite in marriage, and 
he enjoined a very severe penalty on the union of brothers' 
children. Yet, they are on an equal basis, and he has wished 
those who are bound by ties of relationship and brotherly 
union to owe their birth to love. 

You will say this rule has been relaxed for some. Yet, the 
law is not thereby prejudiced, for, when that which is decreed 
for the common good is relaxed for an individual, it profits 
only one individual and spreads envy far and wide. Although 
we read in the Old Testament of a man calling his wife his 
sister, it is unheard of for anyone to marry his niece and call 
her his wife. 

4 1 Cor. 6.12. 

5 2 Cor. 5.17. 



484 SAINT AMBROSE 

It is very curious for you to say that your granddaughter 
can marry her uncle, your son, merely because they have no 
paternal relationship, as if half-brothers, born of the same 
father by a different mother, could be wed if of ^ a different 
sex, in so far as they are not related on the father's side, 6 but 
only on the mother's side. 7 

You had better abandon your intention which, even if it 
were lawful, would not enlarge your family, for your son 
owes you grandchildren, your dear granddaughter owes you 
great-grandchildren. 

Farewell to you and yours. 



87. Ambrose to Romulus 1 

There is no doubt that letter-writing was devised that 
the absent may converse with those far away, and this 
improves in service and in form when many pleasant words 
are exchanged between father and sons, for then truly there 
is conveyed to those far removed in the body a seeming 
likeness of the other's presence. By these exchanges love is 
strengthened, as it is increased by your letters to me and 
mine to you. But I began a richer experience of this by the 
recent expressions of your affection whereby you determined 
to consult me [asking] what Aaron intended by taking gold 
from the people when they requested gods to be made for 
them, and was it because the head of the calf was shaped out 
of the gold or because Moses was so severely angry that he 
bade each man to rise with his sword and kill his neighbor. 2 It 
is important that those far away suffer no loss of elegant style, 

6 agnatio. 

7 cognatio. 



1 Undated, to a distinguished layman of Aemelia, identified with Flavius 
Pisidius Romulus, consular of Aemelia-Liguria in 385. 

2 C. Exod. 32.2-7. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 485 

or of the discussion and free investigation. Since you made 
the demand, I shall speak, more from a desire of a discussion 
than of interpretation. 

While Moses was receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, the 
people were with Aaron the priest. And though they are said 
to have frequently wavered in sin, yet, while the Law was 
being given, it is not said they fell into sacrilege. In fact, when 
God's word was silent, sin stole upon them, so that they asked 
for gods to be made for them. Under compulsion, Aaron 
demanded their rings and the earrings of the women. Having 
received these, he consigned them to the fire and the head 
of a calf was molded. 

We cannot excuse this great priest nor dare we condemn 
him. Yet, he was not unwise in taking the rings and earrings 
from the Jews, for those who were committing sacrilege could 
have no mark of faith or ornaments for their ears. In fact, even 
the patriarch Jacob buried the earrings of the Gentiles, along 
with their statues of gods, when he buried them at Sichem, 
so that no one might hear of the superstition of the Gentiles. 
Moreover, he aptly said : 'Take off your rings and the golden 
earrings which are the earrings of your wives,' 3 not to leave 
the earrings to the men, but to show that men do not have 
them. Fittingly, too, are earrings taken from women, lest 
Eve again hear the voice of the serpent. 

And because they had listened to sacrilege, having fashioned 
their earrings, the image of sacrilege was made, for one who 
hears poorly usually fashions a sacrilege. Events that followed 
show why the calf's head was made: it signified that which 
would occur either this nation would at a later time bring 
Jeroboa among them and the Hebrew people would adore 
golden calves, 4 or else all faithlessness is in the likeness of a 
monster and of the foolishness of beasts. 

3 Exod. 32.2. 

4 Cf. 3 Kings 12.30. 



486 SAINT AMBROSE 

Stricken by the indecency of this act, Moses broke the 
tablets and shattered the head of the calf and beat it to 
powder in order to destroy all traces of impiety. The first 
tablets were broken so that the second ones might be reparied 
whereon, through the teaching of the Gospel, faithlessness, 
now utterly destroyed, vanished. Thus Moses shattered that 
Egyptian pride, and by the authority of the eternal law 
checked that loftiness overreaching itself. Therefore, David 
says: 'And the Lord will break the cedars of Libanus, and 
shatter them like the calf of Libanus.' 5 

Therefore, the people swallowed all faithlessness and pride, 
so that impiety and haughtiness might not swallow them. 
For it is better that each man be master of his flesh and its 
vices, that it may not be said of him that all-powerful death 
has devoured him, 6 but, rather: 'Death is swallowed up in 
victory ! O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy 
sting? 97 And it was said of the Lord: 'He shall drink of the 
torrent in the way,' 8 for He received vinegar in order to 
swallow the temptations of all men. 

However, his making neighbors be killed by neighbors, sons 
by parents, brothers by brothers is evident proof that religion 
is to be preferred to friendship, piety to kinship. That is a 
true piety which prefers divine things to human ones, ever- 
lasting to temporal ones. Therefore, Moses himself said to the 
sons of Levi: 'Let him who has been prepared by the Lord 
come to me. And he said to them: The Lord God of Israel 
has said this; each one of you put his sword into his thigh, 
and pass through,' 9 in order that by contemplation and love 
of divine fear all affection for friends might be checked. 
Indeed, 3,000 men are recorded slain and we are not stirred 
with outrage over the number, for it is better that by the 

5 PS. 28.5,6. 

6 Cf. Isa. 25.8. 

7 1 Cor. 15.5435. 

8 Ps. 109.7. 

9 Exod. 32.27. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 487 

punishment of a few all be exonerated than that all be 
punished. Nor does it seem a harsh act, for it was the punish- 
ment of a wrong against heaven. 

Finally, for these tasks which are holier than others, Levites, 
whose portion is God, are chosen. They know not how to 
spare their possessions, knowing nothing as their own, since 
to the saints God is their all. Indeed, he is that Levite, the 
true avenger and defender, who slays the flesh that he may 
save the spirit, as was the man who said: I chastise my 
body, and bring it into subjection.' 10 What is so near as the 
flesh to the soul? What is so near as are the passions of the 
body? These the good Levite slays in himself with the spiritual 
sword which is the word of God, two-edged and strong. 

It is the sword of the spirit which pierces the soul, as it 
was said to Mary: 'Thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that 
the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. 511 Is not the 
flesh joined to the soul by a certain fraternal union? Is not 
speech akin to and close to our mind? When we check our 
speech so as not to fall into sin by much speaking, we break 
the law of relationship and dissolve the ties of fraternal 
association. With the strength of reason the soul estranges its 
irrational parts, like a kinsman. 

Thus did Moses teach the people to rise up against their 
neighbors through whom their faith was being lost and virtue 
hindered, so as to cut off in us whatever strays from virtue, 
is confounded by errors, is enmeshed in vice. By this instruc- 
tion to the people he deserved not only to describe the anger 
of God and turn it aside when offended, but also to win grace. 

In proportion to our ability we have expressed what we 
feel, for you sought our counsel. If you have anything better, 
share it with us, that from you and from ourselves we may 
learn what we are to choose and follow the more. 

Farewell, and as a son love us, since we also love you. 

10 1 Cor. 9.27. 

11 Luke 2.35. 



488 SAINT AMBROSE 

88. Ambrose to Romulus 1 

I am surprised at you, a country dweller, deciding to ask 
me why God said: I shall fashion a heaven of brass, an 
earth of iron.' 2 The very appearance of the country and its 
ready fertility can teach us how mild is the air, how genial the 
climate when God condescends to bestow fruitfulness. But, 
when He does not do so, its bareness makes everything 
tightly closed and the air so dense that it seems hardened 
into stiff brass. For this reason you have elsewhere that in 
the days of Elias heaven was shut for three and six months. 3 

The heaven being brass means that it was shut up and 
refused to let earth have the use of it. The earth, too, is of 
iron when it yields no crop, and, although seeds are cast 
upon it, with the harshness, so to speak, of an enemy, it 
shuts out of its fruitful ground the very seeds it is wont to 
nourish as in the bosom of a tender mother. When does iron 
bear fruit? When does brass send forth showers? 

He threatens dreadful famine to those wicked men who 
know not how to manifest the devotion of children to the 
common Lord and Father of all; thus, they may be deprived 
of the support of His paternal mildness, the heaven will be of 
brass to them, and the air hard and solid in the consistency 
of metal; but the earth will be of iron bearing no fruit, sowing 
strife, as poverty is wont to do. They who are in need of 
food commit robbery, that at the expense of others they may 
alleviate their own hunger. 

If the offense of the inhabitants is such that by God's 
design wars overtake them, truly their land is of iron, bristling 
with crops of spears, and stripped of its own fruit, rampant 
with punishment, barren of nourishment. Where is abun- 

1 Undated. 

2 Deut. 28.23. 

3 Cf. 3 Kings 17.1. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 



489 



dance? 'Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you, 54 says 
the Lord. 

Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 

89. Ambrose to Sisinnius 1 

I attribute to your sense of duty more than to your regard 
for me your forgiving your son at my request for his having 
married without your consent. It is more significant that 
your sense of duty rather than anyone's request should have 
gained this from you. Assuredly, a priest's request makes 
greater gains when virtue triumphs, for his petition is merely 
dictated by his sense of duty. Nature gained and so did your 
son, and more fully so in that the consideration of a request 
is only temporary while the habit of virtue is lasting and 
natural affection is permanent. 

The affair happened quite fittingly that you might regard 
yourself as a father at the same time as you had just cause 
for indignation. I prefer to admit the wrongdoing that your 
forgiving as a father may be praised the more. As a father 
you were offended because you were entitled to choose, in 
accord with your own judgment, the one who was to become 
a daughter, to whom you were to become a father. We 
obtain children by nature or adoption, by nature through 
chance, by adoption through choice. And we can be blamed 
for those we adopt more than for our natural children, for if 
natural children are degenerate, nature is blamed, but if 
children by adoption or marriage prove unworthy, it is said 
to be our own mistake. This was your reason for being angry 
with your son and for forgiving him, too, for choosing his 

4 Exod. 16.4. 
1 Undated. 



490 SAINT AMBROSE 

wife by himself. You have obtained a daughter at no risk of 
choice, for if he has married well he has obtained an advan- 
tage for you; if he has made a mistake, you will improve the 
couple by taking them back; make them worse by disowning 
them. 

A father chooses a girl for his son with more mature judg- 
ment, but she is introduced to her father by the son and enters 
her father's house at the choice of his son with a stronger 
intention of being obedient, since the son fears that his choice 
will be displeasing, while the daughter-in-law fears lest her 
role will be displeasing. The right of the father to make a 
choice ennobles and elevates his s daughter-in-law; fear of 
giving offense humbles the daughter otherwise chosen and 
respect makes her submissive. The son will be unable to throw 
blame on his wife, as one free from blame may do, when any 
difficulty arises, as usually happens. In fact, he will work 
very hard to have his choice of wife win approval and have 
her show obedience to him. 

As good parents do, you have readily granted pardon 
after being asked. Had you forgiven before being asked, it 
would have been not forgiveness but approval of their 
conduct. To delay pardon longer would have been painful to 
you, useless to them; your paternal affection could hold out 
no longer. 

Through motives of high devotion and in obedience to the 
word of God, Abraham offered his son as a holocaust, and 
like a man devoid of natural feeling he drew his sword that 
no delay might dim the brightness of his offering. Yet, when 
he was ordered to spare his son, he gladly sheathed his sword, 
and he who with the intention of faith had hastened to 
sacrifice his only-begotten son hurried with greater zeal for 
piety to put a ram in place of the sacrifice. 2 

2 Cf. Gen. 22.6-13. This entire paragraph is omitted in the Benedictine 
edition. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 49 1 

And Joseph, in order to keep his young brother, pretended 
he was angry with his other brothers for a concerted act of 
fraud. But when one of his brothers, Juda, unable to bear 
the affront, fell at his knees and when the others wept, 
Joseph was moved and won over by brotherly love and could 
no longer maintain his assumed air of hostility. Sending away 
the onlookers, he disclosed to his brothers that they were his 
kin, and he himself that Joseph whom they had sold. He 
said he no longer remembered their wrong, and he made a 
brother's excuse for their selling of a brother, referring what 
was blameworthy to deeper reasons: It must have been by 
God's design that he went to Egypt in order to feed his own 
needy people with grain from another country and in time of 
dearth to assist in supporting his father and his father's sons. 3 

What shall I say of blessed David, who at one woman's 
request permitted his heart to be softened, and then received 
back into his house his depraved son, who was stained with 
the blood of his brother? 4 

Moreover, that father in the Gospel, although his younger 
son had spent in riotous living all the substance he had 
received from his father, yet, when he returned, confessing 
that he had sinned against him, was moved with pity at his 
one sentence and ran to meet him with tenderness and em- 
braced him. Then he fell upon his neck and ordered the 
best robe and ring and shoes brought for him; honoring him 
with a kiss and loading him with gifts, he entertained him 
with a great banquet. 5 

You have shown that you are an imitator of these men by 
your fatherly affection, whereby we approach every closely to 
God. Hence, I at once urged your daughter, despite the 
winter, to undertake the toilsome journey, for she will spend 

3 Cf. Gen, 44.15-45.2. 

4 CL 2 Kings 14.12. 

5 C. Luke 15.22-24. 



492 SAINT AMBROSE 

the winter more comfortably in her father's mansion and in 
his affection now that pardon has followed wrath. Further- 
more, in order to attain fully to the likeness and pattern of 
the saints, you have censured those who contrived falsehoods 
and attempted to arouse your feelings against your son. 
Farewell, and love us, because we love you. 



90. Ambrose to Studius 1 

I know well the love in your pure soul, your zeal for the 
faith, and the fear of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet I fear to 
send you an answer on this matter, being restricted on the 
one hand by what is enjoined on you as a guardian of the 
law, and on the other by mercy and grace, unless you follow 
the Apostle's authority on this matter : 'For not without reason 
does he carry a sword, who gives judgment/ 2 for he is the 
avenger of God against those who do evil. 

Although you understand this, you have determined to 
make diligent inquiry. There are some persons outside the 
Church, however who do not admit to communion in the 
divine sacraments those who believe in capital punishment. 
Some stay away on their own accord. 3 They are praised and 
cannot be admonished in so far as we observe the authority 
of the Apostle and do not refuse them Communion. 

You see, then, what authority permits and what mercy 
encourages. You will have no excuse, if you have taken action, 
and praise, if you have not done so. But, if you have been 
prevented from acting, I nevertheless approve of your not 
letting the guilty languish in prison, but, more in the manner 

1 Written between 385 and 387, to a magistrate. 

2 Rom. 13.4. 

3 It was customary in the early years of Christianity for persons to 
refrain from Holy Communion after putting another to death by 
enforcement of the law. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 493 

of a priest, absolving them. For it can happen that, when a 
case has been studied, a prisoner will be sentenced who later 
wins pardon, or at least lives without great hardships, as they 
say, in prison. Yet, I have heard some heathens say that they 
returned from governing their province with ax unstained by 
blood. If heathens say this, what should Christians do? 

In answer to all their questions hear the response of the 
Saviour. 4 When the Jews had found an adulteress they 
brought her to the Saviour, seeking to entrap Him, so that if 
He freed her He might appear to destroy the Law, He who 
had said: C I have not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill 
it.' 5 And if He would condemn her He would seem to have 
come against the purpose of His plan. The Lord Jesus, fore- 
seeing this, bent His head and wrote on the ground. What did 
He write except the prophetic saying: 'Earth, earth, write that 
these men have been disowned,' 6 that which is written in the 
Prophet Jeremias concerning Jechonias? 

When the Jews demand payment, the names of the Jews 
are written on the ground; when Christians come forward, 
the names of the faithful are written, not on the ground, but 
in heaven. Those who have been disowned by their Father 
are written on the ground, for they tempt their Father and 
flood the Author of salvation with insults. When the Jews 
demand payment Jesus bows His head. And because He has 
nowhere to lay His head, 7 He raises it again as if to pronounce 
sentence and says: 'Let him who is without sin be the first to 
cast a stone at her!' And again He inclined His head and 
wrote on the ground. 

Those who were listening to Him began to go away, one by 
one, beginning with the eldest, either because they who had 
lived longer had more sins, or because, being older and 

4 Cf. John 8.3-1 1. 

5 Matt. 5.17. 

6 Jer. 22.29. 

7 Cf. Matt. 8.20. 



494 SAINT AMBROSE 

supposedly wiser, they knew the righteousness of His sentence. 
They even began to weep more for their sins, since they had 
been the accusers of another's sin. 

When they went away, Jesus remained alone and, raising 
His head to the woman, He said: 'Where are they who 
accused thee? Has no one stoned thee?' And she said: 'No 
one.' Jesus said to her: 'Neither will I condemn thee. Go and 
see that from now on you sin no more. 3 He does not condemn, 
as if purchasing her back; He as life restores her; like a 
fountain He washes her clean. And because when Jesus 
inclines His head He does so that He may raise up those who 
have fallen, He, the redemption of sins, says: 'Neither will I 
condemn thee. 38 

You have this model to follow. It is possible for the guilty 
one to have hope of correction; if he is unbaptized, that he 
can receive forgiveness; if he has been baptized, that he can 
do penance and offer his body to Christ. How numerous are 
the paths of salvation! 

Thus, our predecessors preferred to be rather indulgent 
toward judges, so that, while their sword was feared, the 
madness of crime was checked and not aroused. But, if 
Communion is refused, the punishment of the guilty seems 
avenged. Our elders preferred that there be more tempering 
of the will than need of the law. 

Farewell, and love us, for we also love you. 



9L Ambrose to Titianus (October, 392) 

You have achieved a harmless victory, enjoying a guarantee 
of victory without the bitterness of begging. Rufinus in his 
consulate has been raised from master of the offices 1 to 



8 John 8.7-11. 

I A secretary of state in domestic and foreign affairs. This is the Rufinus 
who had driven Theodosius to the massacre of the Thessalonicans. 



LETTERS TO LAYMEN 495 

praetorian prefect. Thus, he enters upon a more influential 
position and, at the same time, he can no longer be a hin- 
drance to you, being prefect in another district. I am happy 
for him, as for a friend, in that he is receiving an increase in 
honor and is relieved of odium; and for you, as for a son, in 
that you have been set free from one who you thought would 
be too severe a judge for you. Now, if you arrange the busi- 
ness with your granddaughter, it will be through affection, 
not through fear. 

Be prompt, therefore, in making your arrangements, for 
both hope and enjoyment of it are now grown greater : hope, 
because your granddaughter's father, who anticipated much 
from Rufinus' decision, no longer has anything to hope for 
from him. Rufinus has other concerns; he has forgetten the 
past or has laid it aside, along with the office he then held. 
The father now looks to the substance of his case, not to the 
supporter of his opinions. Enjoyment, too, is more pleasing in 
that the decision will be favorable to you, who could have 
scorned it and did not, satisfying the dutiful claims of kindred, 
the angry promptings of injury. 

Farewell, and love us as a son, for as a parent we love you. 



INDEX 



Aaron, 104, 312, 314, 338, 339, 

342, 385, 394, 484, 485; rod of, 

type of Church, 342 
Abel, 280, 426 
Abigail, 421 
Abiron, 340, 426 
Abraham, 4, 71, 148, 241, 251, 

253, 339, 361, 431, 458, 490 
Absolom, 448 
Achab, 306, 349 
Achaia, 205; council proposed 

in, 224 
Achaz, 232 
Achinaa, 421, 422 
Acholius, Bishop, 67-69, 200-205, 

222 
active life, and contemplative, 

compared, 347, 348 
actors, 145 
Adam, 130, 132, 135, 136, 243, 

244, 326, 370, 465-467, 476 
adoption, 412,489 
adornment, 437 
Adragathius, 15 n. 



adultery, woman taken in, 468- 
471, 493, 494 

Aemelia, bishops of, 189 

Aeons, 13 

Africa, Church in, 219, 223 

Africanus, 39 

Agar, 245 

age, old, 40, 69, 358 

agnatio, 484 n. 

Agnes, St., martyr, 299 

aition, quality of rhetoric, 115 

Alexander, Bishop, 230 

Alexander the Great, 298, 299 

Alexandria, Church at, 192, 220; 
Council at, 216, 218, 220 n. 

Altaner, B., vii n. 

Alypius, Faltonius Probus, 399 

Ambrose, St., 102, 105, 152 n., 
204, 214 n., 401, 402, 416419; 
advice to priests of, 120-124, 
151,317,438; baptism of, 318, 
319; as bishop, vii, ix, 53, 321; 
desire for martyrdom of, 284, 
366, 373, 375, 380; and em- 



499 



perors, 8-10, 16-21, 26, 27, 30, 
31, 34, 35, 38, 56-67, 200, 201, 
373, 374, 385, 396, 397, see 
also Gratian, et. al.; exhorta- 
tions of, to bishops, 76-80, 102- 
105, 153-163, 174-177, 239-241; 
and friends, 67, 68, 102, 204, 
286; and Greek Fathers, vi; 
and heretics, 89, 137, 365; and 
Jews, 10-17; as judge in legal 
affairs, 120, 161-163, 413, 481- 
484, 489-494; as letter writer, 
24, 76, 101, 124, 127-129, 283; 
mention of prayer and of 
Mass, 24, 25, 29, 374; proposes 
Church councils, 221-224; ser- 
mons of, 377-396; relatives of, 
414, 416; virtues of, 53, 54, 
367, 368; works of: Cons. VaL, 
37 n.; De fide, 5 n., 216 n.; 
De off., vii, 455 n.; Expos. Ps. 
118, 455 n.; Hex., 129; Hymn., 
436 n. 

Ambrosia, 414 n. 

Ammianus, Bishop, 200 

Ananias, 112, 346 

Anatolius, Bishop, 200 

angels, 276; power of, 453, 479 

anger, 360 

animals, 262, 263, 330, 435 

Anna, widow, 228, 331 

Antioch, Church at, 19, 172, 173, 
212 n., 217, 218, 220-222 

Antiochus, 399 

Antonius, Claudius, 339 



Anysius, Bishop, 67, 203, 204 

Aper, priest, 230 

Apollinaris, heretic, 126, 136, 

139, 140, 224 
apostasy, 9, 32 
Apostles, 264, 280, 281, 439, 453, 

478; see also Creed. 
apotelesma, quality of rhetoric, 

115 

Aquila, 99 
Aquileia, Councils of, 207, 208, 

216-218, 220 n. 
Aratus, of Cilicia, 259 n. 
Arcadius, Emperor, 19 n. 
Arians, 53 n., 55, 56, 89, 126, 

207, 209-212, 216-218, 221, 223, 

365, 382-384 

Arimimum, Council of, 55 
Aristotle, 272, 435 n. 
Arius, 209, 210 
Ascalon, 12 
Athanaric, 15 n. 
Athanasius, St., 216 n., 221, 225 
athletes, 255-257 
Attalus, heretic, 211 
Atticus, consul, 400 n. 
Attilius; see Regulus 
Augustine, St., xii n., xiii, 286 n., 

374 n., 376, 382 n. 
Auxentius, heretic, 52, 53, 55, 

230 

avarice, 83 
Azarias, 112, 346 

Balaam, soothsayer, 71-75 



500 



Balak, 73, 394 
banquets, 462 
baptism, 73, 96, 240, 401 n., 404, 

448, 463; of desire, 27 
baptistry, 366 
barbarians, 15, 39, 60, 149, 150, 

202, 224, 368, 417; see also 

Goths 

Barbatianus, heretic, 323 
basilicas, 12, 365-368, 372, 376 
Bassianus, Bishop, 103, 225 
Bauton, 58, 59, 63 
Beirut, 12 
belief, 252-254 
Bellicius, 401-402 
Benjamin, tribe of, 163 
Bersabee, mystically considered, 

349 

Bethany, 242-243 
Bethlehem, 234, 236, 241 
Bethphagc, 241 
bishops, rights and duties of, 6-8, 

18, 20, 21, 35, 52, 53, 172, 173, 

365, 380, 381, 468; succession 

oi, 203, 204, 218, 321 n., 

322 n., 337; virtues of, 208, 

211, 212, 343, 345 
blindness, of soul, 402 
blood, mystical separation of, 

308; of Christ, 467, 468 
Bologna, 4.17 
boundary stones, 89, 302 
burning, of buildings by enemy 

sects, 11, 12 



Cain, 80, 426 

Calanus, 298, 299 

Caleb, 402 

calf, golden, 484 

Calligonus, 375 

Callinicum, synagogue at, 9-11, 

385 

calumny, 163 n. 
Camillus, 39 
Campania, 149 
Candidianus, 70 
Capharnaum, 242 
Capua, Council of, 172, 173 
Carthaginians, 39 
catechumens, 63, 366 
Cato, 134 n. 
Chanaan, mystically considered, 

415, 416 

charity, 252-254, 390, 393, 394 
Charles Borromeo, St., 379 n. 
chastity, 171, 225-227, 344 
Chern, mystically considered, 

415 

childhood, 465 
children, 489 

Christ, 78, 88, 100, 109, 111, 118, 
132, 235, 236, 242, 249, 268, 
278-281, 284, 285, 295, 315, 
317-319, 322, 352, 356, 357, 
361-363,377,393,408,418,419, 
421, 439-441, 444, 454, 463, 
475, 478, et passim; as Archi- 
tect, 480; Blood of, 467, 468; as 



501 



Bridegroom, 421; as Exemplar 
of virtue, 16, 84, 86, 95, 226, 
275, 279, 326, 463, 466, 477; as 
Head of Mystical Body, 132, 
277, 279, 389-390, 475, 479; 
Incarnation of, 4, 87, 126, 138, 
139, 226, 227, 234, 235, 386, 
449; as Judge, 249, 250, 322, 
469; miracles of, 401-405, 470; 
nature of, 55, 137, 139-143, 
210, 338, 339; Obedience of, 
477; Passion of, 92, 93, 100, 
191, 192, 311, 361, 362, 452, 
463; as Physician, 253, 337, 
338, 401-405; as Priest, 271, 
272, 315; as Redeemer, 41, 84, 
92,93,109, 110,138, 139,310, 
387, 388, 435, 478; and sinners, 
241-244,386,387,471-474,493, 
494; as Teacher, 468-469 

Christians, beliefs of, 40-42; con- 
duct of, 42, 80, 81, 412; in 
public office, 34, 37, 49 

Chromatius, Bishop, 70 

Church, 48, 333, 334, 336, 390, 
392, 393, 395, 422, 428, 453, 
462 

Cicero, 76 n., 125 n., 134 n., 
272 n., 417 n. 

circumcision, 90-100, 251, 252, 
405-407 

Clarus, Bishop, 200 

Claterna, 417 

Clementianus, 405, 410 

clergy, 43, 317, 318, 347, 348; 
second marriage of, 344 n. 



Coelestis, 48 

cognatio, 484 n. 

comets, 25 n. 

compassion, 361 

confirmation, 401 n, 

conscience, 33, 80 

consolation, letters of, xi, 417- 
419; of sick, 401, 402 

Constantine, Emperor, 55 

Constantinople, Council of, 
217 n.; Church at, 221; im- 
perial residence, 1 1 

Constantius, Bishop, 76, 230 

Constanthjs, Emperor, 49, 55 n., 
207, 220 n., 481 n. 

conversion, 89, 231, 244 

Core, 340, 426 

correction, 386, 387 

counsel, 334, 335 

Count of East, 9, 10 

creation, 46-48, 133, 134, 254-265, 
274-278, 282 

Creed, 366; Nicene, 216 n. 

Crescens, Bishop, 230 

Curia, altar in, 34 

Cybele, 48 

Cynegius, 413 

Cyrus, king, 50 

dancing, of David, mystically 

considered, 145, 146 
Dalmatius, notary, 52 
Damans, 329 

Damasus, Pope, 34, 214 n. 
Darius, king, 289 
Dathan, 340 



502 



David, 22, 23, 31, 68, 87, 142, 
145, 146, 295, 308, 309, 320, 
339, 360, 395, 421, 422, 427, 
439, 458, 466, 471, 491 

death, contempt of, 298 

Deferrari, R. J., 26 n., 27 n,, 37 n. 

Delila, 185-187 

Delphinus, Bishop, 101 

Demarchus, 328 

Demophilus, heretic, 216 

Devil, 317, 320, 326, 357, 370, 
381-384, 426 

didrachma, mystically consid- 
ered, 105, 109, 111-113 

Diocletian, era of, 195 

Dionysius, Bishop, 346, 347 

Dionysius, the Areopagite, 329 

discipline, 234, 456 

disobedience, 466 

Dissertatio Maximini contra 
Ambrosium, 208 n. 

drachma, mystically considered, 
106, 107, 113, 114 

dreams, 24 

drunkenness, 132 

Dudclen, F. H., vii n., 15 n., 
150 n., 217 n., 376 n., 437 n. 

dwellings, lofty, 448 

earrings, 485 
Easter, date of, 189-200 
Egypt, 197-199, 457, 458 
eight, number, 266-267 
eighth day, 471 
Eleazar, 342 



Elias, 145, 203, 264, 305, 331, 
345, 349, 350, 371, 442, 448 

Eliseus, 202, 203, 318, 319, 332, 
345, 379, 380, 448 

Elizabeth, 158 

emperors, rights and duties of, 
7, 8, 17, 18, 33, 52-54, 64, 65, 
208, 212, 373, 374; see also 
Gratian, Theodosius, etc. 

enneakaidekaeteris, 190 n. 

entellechia, 272 

Ephraim, 241, 242 

Ephrata, 234, 236 

Epicureans, 323, 327, 328 

Epicurus, 325 

epistolography, in antiquity, xi- 
xii 

Esau, 246, 247, 287-289, 358, 360 

Ethiopians, practiced circum- 
cision, 92 

Eucharist, Holy, 236, 401 n., 492, 
494 

Eugenius, usurper, viii, 62, 65, 
66 

Euphrates, mystically consid- 
ered, 462 

Eusebius, Bishop, 200 

Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli, 
321, 345-348, 413 

Eustasius, Bishop, 230 

Eustathius, 217 n: 

Eutropius, 200 

Euzoius, Bishop, 220 n. 

Evagrius, of Antioch, 172, 173, 
216 n. 

Eve, 326, 370, 426, 466, 476 



503 



Eventius, Bishop, 230 
excommunication, 62 n., 163 n. 
extravagance, 149 
Ezekias, 232, 471 

faith, 253, 254, 358, 411, 433 

famine, 38, 44 

fasting, 228, 229, 323, 326, 327, 

330, 351 

father, of prodigal son, 491 
Faustinus, 414, 416; the younger, 

414 

Favez, C., xi n. 
Fegadius, 101 
Felix, Bishop, 102 
Felix, deacon, 30 
Felix, heretic, 230 
Felix, martyr, 376 
festuca, 292 n. 
fields, mystically considered, 438, 

439 

fifteen, number, 471 
first-born, 430, 431 
first-fruits, 277, 280 
firstlings, 280 
fish, Greek symbol of Christ, 

110 n. 

Figueroa, G., 9 n. 
Flavian, of Antioch, 172, 173, 

217 n. 
forgiveness, of others, 351; of sin, 

240, 359, 388 

Gabanites, 165-170 
Gallican bishops, 22 
Gangrance, Council of, 436 n. 



garments, of opposite sex not to 
be worn, 435 

Gaul, Church in, 219, 223 

Gauls, beliefs of, 55 

Gaza, basilica at, burned, 12 

Geminianus, Bishop, 230 

Genesis, mystically considered, 
135 

Genial, heretic, 230 

Germinator, heretic, 230 

Gervase and Protase, martyrs, 
x, 378 

gluttony, 132, 458 

goat, as emissary, 316 

God, 5, 24, 31, 32, 40, 65, 70, 71, 
114, 118, 131, 133, 135, 136, 
210, 211, 255, 409, 448, 449, 
452, 459, 465, 477, 488; ad- 
dressed as our Father, 412; 
benefits of, to man, 259; law 
of, 54; subordination of em- 
perors to, 18 

gold, 408, 462 

Golgotha, 241, 244 

Good, Highest, 437-441, 445 

goose, sacred, 39 

Goths, 15 n., 202 n. 

grace, 109, 411, 470 

Grata, 28 n. 

Gratian, Emperor, viii, 3, 208, 
212 n., 216; Ambrose pleads 
for body of, 56 n.; edicts of, 
on religion, 32; letter of, to 
Ambrose, 4; virtues of, 4, 5 

greed, 80 



504 



Greek, Ambrose's knowledge of, 
. vi; customs of women, 436 
Gregory, of Nazianzen, 220 n. 
grief, 416 
growth, in Christ, 249 

Hamilcar, 50, 51 

Hannibal, 39 

harlot, mystically considered, 81, 

82 

heaven, 201, 202, 257, 258, 360 
Hebrews, laws of, 85 
Henoch, 305 
heretics, 211, 212 n., 223, 323, 

329 

Hermachus, 328 n. 
hermits, 346 
Herod, 235 
Herodias, 371 
Herodotus, 91 n. 
Hexaemeron, 254 
Hippocrates, 269 
Honorius, Emperor, viii 
hope, 282-283 
Horeb, 349 
Horontianus, 231, 241, 245, 251, 

254, 272, 277, 283 
hospitality, 176, 361 
house, of God, 449, 450; of rich, 

449, 450 

hule } quality of rhetoric, 115 
humility, 84 
husband, duty of, 480 
Hyginus, Bishop, 62 
hymns, 351 
hypostdsis, 220 n. 



Indicia, 160, 163 

indiction, 196 

Ingeniosus, heretic, 230 

inheritance, denied to priests, 
42; of God, 459, 460 

Innocents, Holy, 235, 269 n. 

Irenaeus, 405 n., 420, 425, 428, 
432, 435, 437, 448, 454, 458, 
464, 468, 475 

iron, magnet of, mystically con- 
sidered, 132, 133 

Isaac, 115, 245, 246, 251, 431, 
463 n. 

Isis, rites of, 144 

Italy, 223, 417 

Jacob, 68, 69, 287, 288, 320, 358, 
458-463, 485 

James, priest, 149 

Januarius, heretic, 230 

Japhet, mystically considered, 
415 

Jason, king, 65 

Jeroboa, 485 

Jerome, St., 232 n. 

Jerusalem, Temple of, 11; heav- 
enly, 424 

Jews, 10, 11, 13-15, 100, 148,250, 
251, 390-392, 404-407, 410-412, 
426, 466, 485, 486 

Jezabel, 349, 350, 371, 451, 452 

Joathan, 232 

John the Baptist, St., 280, 331, 
345, 349, 371, 470 

Joseph, o Arimethea, 280 



505 



Joseph, son of Jacob, 84-87, 147, 

148, 288, 289, 431, 491 
Joseph, spouse of Mary, 158 
Josephus, Flavian, 130, 178 
Jovinian, heretic, 225 n., 230 
Judas, 315, 357, 391, 404, 480 
Julian, the Apostate, 11-14, 32, 

51 

Justa, sister of Valentinian, 28 n. 
justice, 302, 303 
Justina, Empress, x, 284 n., 

367 n., 368 n. 
Justus, Bishop, 105, 115 
Julian Valens, 211 

kiss, mystically considered, 390- 
392 

Laban, 358, 459 

labarum, 10 

Lacy, J. A., xii n. 

Laetus, 122, 124 

law, given to Moses, 464, 465, 
467; of God, 54; natural, 464, 
467; a tutor, 248, 251, 405, 410 

Lawrence, St., martyr, 299 

lawsuits, 494, 495 

Lazarus, 441 

Leontius, 161-163 

Leopardus, 230 

Levite, of tribe of Benjamin, 
164-168 

Levites, 320, 340, 429, 430, 487 

Lia, 459 

Liberius, Pope, 213 n. 

liberty, 286, 287, 411 



Limenius, Bishop, 321 n. 

Lot, 446 

Lucius, heretic, 216 

lust, 131, 132, 314, 315 

luxury, 356 

lying, impossible for God, 70 

Macedonia, 200, 202, 203 

Macedonius, Bishop, 200 

Machabees, feast of, 13 

Magdalen, Mary, 386, 390, 392 

malignity, 337 

man, ages of, 269; creation of, 
114, 132, 254, 255, 258, 259, 
264, 465; foolish, 406, 459, 
460; free, 290, 291; perfection 
in, 259, 260, 479; powers of, 
259-262; in rest of creation, 
133, 255-257, 263; wise, 287, 
292-301, 307, 312 

Manassc, 75 

manhood, 479 

Mani, 93, 190 

Manichacans, 75, 229, 230 

manna, 107, 138, 402, 432, 434 

Marcellina, sister of Ambrose, 
vi, x, 20 n., 162, 365, 376, 385 

Marcellinus, brother of Maxi- 
mus, 60 n. 

Marcellus, Bishop, 120 

Marcian, heretic, 93 

Mark, of Arethusa, 13 n. 

Mark, of Pettau, 212 

marriage, 174-176, 225, 226, 344, 
345,413,481,483,489 

Martian, heretic, 230 



506 



Martroge, E, 152 n. 

martyr, 9; Ambrose's desire to 

be, 284, 366, 373, 375, 380 
martyrdom, 94, 95 
martyrs, 299, 300, 376, 379, 380, 

383, 384 
Mary, Virgin, 126, 134, 135, 158, 

15Q, 226-228, 333, 339, 361, 

362, 487 
Mary, sister of Moses (Miriam) , 

312, 333, 341, 394 
Mass, Sacrifice of, 6, 24, 25, 29, 

190, 366, 370, 396, 397 
masters, duties of, 362 
Maximian, Emperor, 28, 36 
Maximus, Bishop, 230 
Maximus, of Alexandria, 217 n., 

220, 221 
Maximus, of Verona, 153, 154, 

159-163 
Maximus, usurper, viii, 16, 19 n., 

56, 57, 59-61, 284 n., 374, 

375 n. 
McGuire, M., 20 n., 25 n., 48 n., 

150 n. 

Melchisedech, 338 
Meletius, of Antioch, 217 n., 

220 

Mercurius, of Verona, 161 
Michol, 145 
midwives, 154-157 
Milan, Church at, 190 n., Synod 

of, 212 n,, 225 n. 
miracles, 376, 379, 382 
Misael, 112, 346 
miser, 305, 408 



Mithra, 48 

Modena, 417 

monastery, in Achaia, 205 

monks, and clerics, compared, 
347-349 

Moses, 31, 117, 118, 144, 145, 
264, 298, 308-314, 327, 336, 
339-341, 360, 394, 433435, 455, 
458, 464, 484, 486, 487 

mothers, duties of, 361, 362 

Mystical Body. See Christ, Head 
of 

Nabal, 422 

Nabor, 376 

Naboth, 306 

Nabuchodonosor, 14 

Narbonne, Bishops of, 207 

Nathan, 22, 395 

Nathaniel, 280 

nature, described, 274; gifts of, 

to man, 263; progress of, 47, 

48 

Nectarius, 220, 222, 345 n. 
neighbors, 89 
Nembroth, 416 
neptis, 482 n. 
Nicaea, Council of, 55, 173, 189, 

190, 196, 209, 344 
Nicensis, 152 n., 155 
Nicholaites, 75 
nineteen years' cycle, 190 
Noe, 147, 287 
nous, 111 
nudity, 148 
Numerius, Bishop, 200 



507 



oaths, of senators, 34 
obedience, of Christ, 477 
Origen, 236 n., 410 
orphans, 80 
Osiris, 195 n, 
ousia, 220 n. 

pagans, 33, 34, 38, 39, 45, 49; 

temple revenues of, 63-65 
Palanque, J. R., v, ix n., 11 n., 
20 n., 25 n., 150 n, 152 n., 
220 n., 231 n., 425 n. 
Palladius, heretic, 207, 208 
paradise, 130, 244 
parents, choosing of children's 

partners, 490 
partridge, mystically considered, 

109, 425-428 
Paschasius, 215 
Passover, 189, 190, 193, 194 
paterfamilias, 90 
Paternus, 162, 413 n., 481 
patience, 463 

Paul, St., 8, 128, 129, 235, 236, 

252, 286, 303, 308, 319, 323, 

332, 334, 339, 346, 357, 377, 

430, 442 

Paulinus of Antioch, Bishop, 

217-220 
Paulinus, of Milan, 385 n., see 

also: Vita Ambrosii 
Paulinus, of Nola, 144 
Paulus, Bishop of Constan- 
tinople, 224 
peace, 304, 305, 454-476 
pedagogue 406 



Pelagia, virgin, 299, 300 
penance, 313-315, 462, 470 
Pentateuch, 385 

perfection, in man, 259, 260, 479 
persecution, 14, 44, 366-369 
Peter, St., 16, 77, 135, 137, 138, 

244, 258, 303, 307, 326, 327, 

359, 404, 448, 471 
Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, 

216 n., 220 
Phamenoth, 195, 196 
Pharao, 14, 157, 171,426 
Pharisee, mystically considered, 

388-391 

Pharmuth, 195-197 
Philippus, Bishop, 200 
Philo Judaeus, 269 n. 
Philodemus, 325 n. 
Philomarus, 325 
philosophers, 328, 329 
Photiniw, heretic, 126, 212 n. 
pirates, 290 
plague, 203 
planets, 261 
Plato, 272, 295 n. 
pleasure, 131, 134, 148, 149, 328 
Plutarch, 299 n. 
Polybius, 101 
Pompey, Gnaeus, 50 
Pope, entitled 'Good Shepherd/ 

225 

Portus, 413 
poverty, 80, 81, 208, 354, 355, 

469 

prayer, 3, 25, 29, 103, 351, 417 
pride, 83, 467 



508 



priesthood, 174, 177 

priests, in lawsuits, 52, 120-124; 
persecution of, 43; qualifica- 
tions of, 315, 316, 339, 342, 
374, 455, 456 

Priscus, 152, 400 

prison, conditions in, 493 

Proculus, 207 

propitiatory (mercy seat) , 104 

prosperity, in Roman provinces, 
46 

psalms, singing of, 13, 374 

punishment, capital, 492 

purity, 171 

Pythagoras, 454 

Pythagoreans, 265 

Pythian Apollo, 455 n. 

Rachel, 156, 235, 236, 269, 459 

Rahab, 361 

ram, mystically considered, 115, 

116 

ransom, 290 
Rebecca, 76, 359 
Reggio, 417 
Regulus, Attilius, 39 
Renatus, of Verona, 161-163 
resurrection, 327 
revenues, for pagan temples, 

62-67 

rhetoric, rules of, 115 
rich, the, 304, 408, 409, 460 
riches, 80, 81, 83, 88, 303, 304, 

353-355, 390 
rights, civil vs. ecclesiastical, 371, 

372 



rites, foreign, in Rome, 48 

Rome, Church at, 192, 222; 
Council of, 204 n.; primacy of, 
174, 215, 221; Senate house 
at, 3840, 49 

Romulus, 484, 488 

Rufinus, 494, 495 

Rumoridus, 63 

Sabbath, 407 

Sabellians, 126 

Sabinus, 124, 127, 129, 134, 136, 
144, 225, 425 n. 

sacraments, 73, 402 

sacrifice, pagan, 32, 458 

saints, 429-431, 449, 477 

Samaritan, Good, 469 

Samson, 176-189 

Samuel, 31, 339 

Sara, 148, 171,245,361,431 

Sarmatian, heretic, 323 

Satan, 426 

Satyrus, vi, 345 n. 

Saul (Paul) , 78 

Scripture, Holy, 77, 78, 134, 135, 
210, 236, 267, 350, 470, 471, 
483; quotations from, or re- 
ference to, individual Books: 

Acts, 64,78, 90, 115, 122, 135, 
138, 148, 257, 259, 273, 308, 
322, 326, 329, 348, 354, 401, 
442, 443, 448, 476 
Aggeus, 448, 449, 451-454 
Amos, 441 



509 



Apocalypse, 75, 114, 137, 138, 

232, 255, 269, 272, 276, 339, 

431, 434, 446 

Baruch, 202 

Canticle o! Canticles, 68, 130, 

231, 333, 390, 392, 419, 422, 

424, 433, 434, 441, 445, 450, 

454 

Colossians, 104, 114, 200,229, 

280, 332, 353, 360, 388, 441, 

443, 451, 467 

1 Corinthians, 71, 73, 78, 87, 
95, 98, 100, 108, 119-122, 126, 
129, 132, 138, 150, 197, 199, 
226, 229, 236, 239, 246, 248, 
252-254, 256-258, 263, 268, 
276, 279-284, 286, 293-296, 
300, 322-325, 327, 328, 332, 
335, 337, 348, 351, 378, 386, 
389, 396, 402, 408, 409, 423, 
428, 432, 436, 437, 439, 443, 
449, 454, 483, 486, 487 

2 Corinthians, 5, 68, 83, 97, 
117, 126, 130, 137, 138, 192, 
238, 252, 257, 264, 271, 273, 
274, 281, 297, 308, 318, 320, 
332, 347, 374, 406, 411, 418, 
419, 443, 483 

Daniel, 64, 112, 130, 153, 159, 
161, 256, 264, 298, 323, 327, 
331, 346 

Deuteronomy, 71, 89, 104, 113, 
114, 135, 175, 195, 205, 247, 
252, 258, 290, 291, 307, 309, 
311, 312, 320, 336, 352, 393, 
395, 401, 409, 423, 424, 428, 



430, 431, 435, 438, 439, 488 
Ecclesiastes, 25, 38, 78, 107, 
132, 137, 146, 192, 266, 298, 
317-320, 361, 424, 471 
Ecclesiasticus, 25, 84, 205, 234, 
248, 287, 332, 421, 448 
Ephesians, 79, 86, 238, 246, 
257, 270, 319, 322, 325, 348, 
351, 372, 412, 423, 475480 

2 Esdras, 332 

3 Esdras, 290 

4 Esdras, 272, 447 
Esther, 331 

Exodus, 103-105, 107, 111, 
116-118, 138, 149, 157, 193, 
197-199, 228, 252, 264, 268, 
279, 298, 308, 309, 311, 325, 
327, 331, 333, 336, 360, 392, 
394, 402, 407, 426, 427, 429, 
432, 433, 442, 443, 452, 455, 
458, 472, 484-486, 489 
Ezechiel, 7, 21, 142, 145, 227, 
250, 406 

Galatians, x, 113, 123, 128, 
138, 143, 173, 191, 245, 246, 
248, 249, 251, 252, 278, 281, 
293, 294, 348, 405, 410, 411, 
418, 419, 430, 471 
Genesis, 4, 68, 76, 79, 80, 84, 
87, 90, 92, 97-100, 115, 118, 
119, 130*132, 135, 136, 147, 
148, 156-158, 170, 174, 176, 
229, 236, 241, 245-247, 251, 
254, 257, 259, 261, 264, 265, 
268, 280, 287-289, 297, 305, 
326, 330, 358, 359, 361, 370, 



510 



384, 389, 393, 404, 414-416, 
419, 426, 431, 446, 458-461, 
465, 476, 490, 491 
Habacuc, 80, 150, 264, 427 
Hebrews, 74, 104, 126, 135, 
145, 268, 271, 338, 339, 347, 
360, 410, 430, 440, 453 
Isaias, 58, 69, 77, 79, 81, 98, 
139, 141, 143, 146-148, 158, 
192, 226-228, 232, 237, 245, 
250, 257, 265, 268, 285, 291, 
315, 319, 320, 332, 354, 356, 
386, 388, 392, 409, 412, 426, 
427, 437, 439, 449, 453, 457, 
460, 471, 473/486 
Jeremias, 12, 140, 143, 151, 
192, 261, 262, 269, 271, 285, 

385, 411, 424, 425, 449, 450, 
472, 493 

Job, 23, 291, 295, 296, 302, 
304, 306, 369, 370, 377, 455, 
456 

Joel, 420, 422, 446, 447 
John, 5, 71, 77, 90, 96, 109, 
112, 136, 140, 141, 192-194, 
235, 243, 250, 258, 261, 264, 
275, 280, 281, 283, 294, 300, 
309, 311, 315, 317, 318, 322, 
350, 357, 359, 361, 374, 377, 
382-384, 390, 393, 395, 403-405, 
408, 412, 419, 430, 432, 440, 
441, 443, 446, 447, 451, 465, 
468, 469, 472, 473, 478, 493, 
494 

1 John, 198,253,271,323 

2 John, 214 



Jonas, 229, 374 

Josue, 31, 361, 395, 402, 427, 

451, 455 

Judges, 17, 164, 167, 169, 176- 

181, 184-188, 298 

Judith, 331 

1 Kings, 23, 87, 421, 422, 426 

2 Kings, 15, 22, 23, 145, 395, 
449, 491 

3 Kings, 161, 204, 242, 305, 
306, 320, 331, 349, 350, 371, 
425, 434, 442, 448, 449, 485, 
488 

4 Kings, 17, 202, 203, 228, 
263, 264, 305, 306, 318, 319, 
332, 380, 448, 452 
Leviticus, 100, 119, 175, 312, 
316, 472 

Luke, 16, 20, 82, 88, 98, 106, 
110, 124, 134, 135, 158, 159, 
170, 190, 192, 227, 228, 233- 
235, 244, 254, 269, 280, 282, 
284, 312, 315, 318, 320, 349, 
361, 386-393. 396, 409, 427, 
432, 433, 446, 452, 469-470, 
472, 477, 487, 491 

1 Machabees, 10 

2 Machabees, 64, 65, 299 
Malachias, 267, 420 
Mark, 377, 384, 403 
Matthew, 4, 8, 9, 24, 25, 36, 
68, 77, 82, 93, 96-98, 100, 106, 
109-111, 113, 118, 126, 135, 
137, 140, 144, 146, 151, 153, 
158, 193, 204, 226-229, 232, 
235, 236, 238, 241-244, 250, 



511 



254, 255, 258, 263, 267, 276, 

280, 284, 287, 307, 314-316, 

318, 322, 326, 331, 337, 348, 

350, 352, 358-361, 371, 381, 

388, 391-393, 401, 404, 406, 

407, 411, 412, 419, 420, 426, 

427, 432, 439442, 444, 451, 

453, 457, 463, 470-472, 474, 

477, 493 

Micheas, 231-234, 237-240, 

268, 394, 422 

Numbers, 72-74, 76, 104, 161, 

176, 228, 311, 312, 338-342, 

394, 402, 405, 407, 426, 429, 

477 

Osee, 267, 420, 423, 440, 471 

1 Paralipomenon, 285 

2 Paralipomenon, 68, 69 

1 Peter, 93, 253, 303, 304, 307, 
353, 354, 363, 402, 412, 442 

2 Peter, 258, 438 
Philemon, 101, 357 
Philippians, 86-88, 109, 126, 
136, 138-140, 143, 201, 242, 
271, 275, 282, 294, 304, 354, 
360, 377, 447, 453, 477 
Proverbs, 25, 38, 41, 78-82, 
106-108, 234, 250, 290-292, 
300-304, 306, 310, 337, 343, 
346, 353, 355, 415, 427, 432, 
438, 457 

Psalms, 7, 22, 25, 31, 58, 64, 
68, 76-80, 84, 87, 104-106, 108- 
110, 116, 124, 128, 133, 137- 
139, 141, 145-147, 150, 175, 
191, 192, 194, 200, 201, 209, 



228, 229, 234-237, 240, 
258, 260, 262, 264-266, 
269, 271, 274, 275, 282, 
285, 288, 289, 294-296, 
303, 306, 307, 309, 313, 
318, 320, 322, 323, 332, 
337, 339, 343, 349-352, 
356, 360, 362, 369, 372, 
377-379, 391, 403, 408, 
421, 422, 427, 430, 433, 
443, 445, 447, 450-453, 
457, 460, 462, 466, 470, 
477, 486 

Romans, 8, 16, 65, 70, 84 
93, 97, 110, 113, 133, 
237, 241, 248, 249, 251, 
260, 263, 268, 273-275, 
279, 281-283, 285, 297, 
307, 318, 326, 335, 340, 
391, 404, 428, 444, 453, 
467, 492 
1 Thessalonians, 79 

1 Timothy, 83, 104, 140, 
292, 331, 343-345, 436, 
450 

2 Timothy, 8, 105, 109, 
340, 386 

Titus, 214, 229, 343 
Tobias, 175, 327 
Wisdom, 40, 69, 248, 273, 
320, 434, 444, 448 
Zacharias, 83, 142, 453 



246, 
268, 
284, 
301, 
317, 
336, 
354- 
373, 
419, 
437- 
455, 
476, 



233, 
256, 
277- 
301, 
358, 
463- 



215, 
440, 

255, 



305, 



Secunclianus, heretic, 207, 208 
seers, 44, 48 
senators, Christian, 34 



512 



Senones, 39 

senses, mystically considered, 309 

servitude, 111 n., 287, 288 

seven, number, 265-269, 271, 470 

Severus, Bishop, 149, 200 

Severus, layman, of Milan, 382 

sexes, differences in, 435 

sheep, 68, 69, 358 

silver, 408, 462 

Simeon, 280 

Simplicianus, vi, vii, 286, 303, 
308,311 

sin, 24, 232, 233, 238-240, 295, 
300, 301, 311-314; forgiveness 
of, 388, 389, 465-467 

sinners, 276 

Siricius, Pope, 151, 152, 225 

Sirmium, Synod of, 212 n. 

Sisinnius, 489 

six, days of creation, 264, 265 

slavery, 288-295, 301, 302, 363, 
411; spiritual, 247, 248; to 
sin, 297-298 

Socrates, 216 n. 

Solon, 269 

Sophocles, 296 

soul, 237, 272, 273, 313, 421, 
432, 433, 441, 443, 444, 446, 
454, 480; mystically consid- 
ered, 241-244, 420-424, 428, 
434 

Sozomen, 13 n., 15 n., 120 n. 

speech, 79, 83, 84, 487; deceitful, 
82; freedom of, 6, 7; rules of, 
118, 119 



Spirit, Holy, 5, 6, 107, 108, 278, 
283-285, 314, 393, 434, 440 

stars, 265, 269 

stater, 109, 110 

Stephen, St., 148, 308, 322, 442 

Stoics, 326 

stoning, 473, 474 

strangers, hospitality to, 176 

Studius, 468 n., 492 

suffering, 278, 346, 347 

Sunamitess, 448 

Susanna, 130, 159 

Syagrius, Bishop, 152, 163 

Symmachus, prefect of Rome, 
37, 63; Relatio of, 31 n,, 37 n. 

synagogue, 10-12, 341, 350, 385, 
393, 423 

Syrus, priest, 151 

tablets, of Law, 486 

temperance, 332 

temptation, 237-240 

ten, stages of life, 269, 270 

Tertullian, 344 n. 

Thecla, virgin, 299, 333 

Theodoret, 13 n., 26 n., 172 n., 
216 n., 217 n. 

Theodorus, Bishop, 230 

Theodosian Code, 43 n., 413 n., 
481 n., 483 

Theodosius, Bishop, 200 

Theodosius, Emperor, viii, 6, 16, 
17, 19-22, 24-26, 28-32, 35, 
43 n., 55, 59-61, 63, 64, 202 n., 
208, 213, 216, 219, 223; and 
affair at Callinicum, 10-12, 



513 



385; Thessalonian massacre, 

395, 396, 494 n. 
Theophilus, Bishop, 172 
Therasia, 144 n. 
Thessalonian massacre, 20 n., 

22, 200, 494 n. 
thief, on cross, 243, 244, 315, 

427 

Thomar, 156 

three, days, mystically consid- 
ered, 470 
Tigris, mystically considered, 

462 

Timosius, 396 
Timotheus, Bishop, 200 
Timothy, Bishop, 217 
Titianus, 494 
travel, 68, 172, 173 
Trier, Ambrose's mission to, 57- 

62 
Trinity, 5, 6, 126, 265, 278, 319, 

383 

uncle, marriage with, 481 
Ursinus, anti-pope, 213-215 
usury, 175 

Valens, Emperor, 214, 216 n., 

395 n. 

Valentinian I, Emperor, vii, viii 
Valentinian II, Emperor, viii, x, 
26, 27, 31, 37, 52, 53, 57, 59, 
60, 63, 64, 208, 216; Ambrose's 
embassy in behalf of, 56 n., 
57-63; asking basilica, 367 n., 
371, 374, 375 n.; death and 



burial of, 26-28; delegating 
state revenues to pagan tem- 
ples, 32-33, 35; desire of, for 
baptism, 27 

Valentinians, sect, 13, 17, 385 

Vallio, 61 

vengeance, 352 

Venus, 48 

Vercelli, Church of, 321, 345- 
348,413 

Vestal virgins, 35, 36, 38, 41, 42 

vices, 352 

Victor, son of Maximus, 19 n., 
59 

Victory, altar of, 34, 36, 37, 40, 
49 

Vienne, Bishops of, 207 

Vigilius, Bishop, 174 

vigils, 216-217 

Virgil, 44-47, 87, 90, 191, 262, 
266, 269, 290, 297, 416, 425, 
428, 444, 445, 450, 457 

virgin, trial of, 152, 153, 155, 156 

virginity, 42, 225-228, 323, 332- 

335; of Mary, 226-228 
virgins, 324, 332-333 
virtues, 352, 353, 363, 408, 445- 
447, 475; of a Christian, 253, 
342, 343, 351, 352 

Vita Ambrosii; 62 n., 152 n. 

Wady Eschcol, 394 n. 
wages, defrauding of, 81, 82, 175 
Waghorn, W. R,, 425 n, 
widows, 43, 80, 228, 324, 335; 
mystically considered, 469; 



514 



mite, mystically considered, Wytzes, J., 31 n., 32 n., 63 n. 
470 

wisdom, 292-301, 459; divine, Zabulon, 241, 452 

309 . 310 Zaccheus, 314 

witnesses, from hearsay, 160 n. Zach 28Q 

wives, duties of, 361 7 

women, clothing of, in pagan /euer > J" * u 

rites, 436; subject to husband, Zeno - Bishop, 152, 153 

480 Zorobabel, 451 



515 



130223